Grid resilience ‘about national security’ — Perry

Source: Sam Mintz and Christa Marshall, E&E News reporters • Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2018

Energy Secretary Rick Perry yesterday downplayed the likelihood his agency will use emergency authority under the Federal Power Act to subsidize coal and nuclear plants but kept alive the possibility of pulling another policy lever with a similar goal.

The Department of Energy has been weighing for months how to respond to what it sees as an imminent electric grid crisis caused by the closures of coal and nuclear facilities.

Among other options, it has considered issuing an emergency order under Section 202c of the FPA, which empowers DOE to order temporary connections for the generation, delivery, interchange or transmission of electricity.

Critics have said there is no immediate crisis to respond to and that using the emergency authority would be unprecedented and likely illegal.

Perry said at a House Science Committee hearing, in response to a question from Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), that issuing an emergency order under Section 202c of the FPA would amount to approaching the issue from an economic standpoint.

“I think it’s really important for us as a country to look at this for what you and I understand it to really be about: It’s about the national security of our country,” he told Lamb.

Perry said keeping plants online and able to deliver energy, through national disasters or cyberattacks, is “as important to our national security as anything I can think of.”

And he said that using a Korean War-era law that allows the president to require businesses to prioritize contracts for materials deemed vital for national security remains under consideration.

“I know that the Defense Production Act is one of those ways to address that, that we’re looking at very closely, as well,” Perry said.

A broad group of energy advocates wrote Perry earlier this week urging him to reject requests from Ohio utility FirstEnergy Corp. to use either law, noting that the Defense Production Act in particular does not allow the administration to set prices or “market participants to buy products or services they do not wish to buy” (Energywire, May 9).

In his remarks, Perry expressed a weariness with the ongoing deliberations that have consumed much of his time at the agency.

“I’m looking for a solution. I’m looking for results. Process kind of wears me out from time to time,” he said.

Renewables as children

At the hearing today, several Democrats slammed President Trump’s plans to eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and slash renewable and efficiency programs by more than 60 percent.

“By all credible accounts, American industry will not fund the activities that are proposed for elimination,” said ranking member Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) in opening remarks.

“The department could have heard that from industry directly, but for the second year in a row, we heard from department officials that they did not formally engage with the private sector in deciding what activities you would cut,” she said.

As he has at several recent hearings, Perry justified the proposed funding reductions by saying many renewable technologies are no longer at an early stage and don’t need as much support.

He compared the dynamic to sending his children to college. “Then they graduated and went on and went to work. I didn’t expend those dollars because they had basically matured,” he said.

At another point, Perry pledged to Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) that he would work with him on legislation to improve greenhouse gas assessments of ethanol.

Perry also criticized programs where he said there had been “historically questionable expenditure of dollars.”

He cited the Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility in South Carolina, a proposed nuclear waste project, and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, a multinational effort under construction in France to demonstrate fusion at scale (E&E Daily, March 7).

“From time to time, one of the things I’ve run into over the last 18 months … we get involved with some areas where expenditures are off the charts,” Perry said. “ITER is one of those. It was poorly managed.”

Trump proposed $75 million for ITER in his most recent budget plan, an amount that supporters say is too low to keep the project on schedule.

Perry did not take a definitive stance on whether the U.S. should pull out of the project but added that he “was getting comfortable” that the management seems to be “back on track” under ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot. “Fusion has the potential to really change the world,” Perry said to Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).