Trump's coal, nuke push pegged to security threats to gas pipes

(Bloomberg) — U.S. President Donald Trump, who made saving mining jobs an earmark of his campaign, is pointing to natural gas’s vulnerability to hackers as justification for bailing out struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants.

Gas-fired power generators are more vulnerable to cyber attacks than coal plants and nukes because gas must be delivered from remote fields via pipelines, according a draft report by the department. Coal and nuclear plants, on the other hand, keep fuel stored on site, eliminating a potential weak point that could be targeted by malicious hackers.

The risks cyber attacks pose to power infrastructure are rising as the energy industry adopts more automated systems. At the same time, hackers from criminal groups and hostile regimes are growing increasingly sophisticated in how they target weak spots. Trump’s plan will require grid operators to purchase power from coal and nuclear plants that otherwise might not be competitive with rivals running on cheap gas from shale fields.

“The evolving risk associated with mitigating cyber and physical security challenges is one of the most pressing issues for the sector,” the Energy Department said in the draft memo. “Conventional reliability standards do not adequately take into account gas pipeline vulnerabilities.”

Trump’s plan to rescue coal and nuclear plants “that are struggling to be profitable under the guise of national security would be unprecedented and misguided,” said Todd Snitchler, marketing group development director at the American Petroleum Institute, which represents some of the nation’s biggest gas drillers.

(Written by Naureen S. Malik)