Perry mum on plan to save coal, nuclear

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Energy Secretary Rick Perry today said he wasn’t ready to give details — or a timeline — for how he plans to follow through with President Trump’s directive aimed at saving struggling coal and nuclear plants.

Perry’s meeting with reporters gathered at the Department of Energy’s headquarters in Washington didn’t offer any details when asked about which policy levers the administration is mulling.

“We’re not ready to make a statement yet,” Perry said, adding that his agency is still looking at policy implications and gathering information. “We’re not ready yet to say, ‘Here is the plan’ … but we’re making progress.”

Trump tasked the DOE chief and former Texas governor earlier this month with halting a growing string of coal and nuclear plant closures. A leaked document from the internal White House process revealed that the administration is considering invoking DOE’s emergency authorities under two key statutes, the Federal Power Act and the Defense Production Act.

The memo made clear that the Trump administration is basing a bailout on national security grounds, warning of cyber and physical threats to the nation’s natural gas pipeline matrix as usage increases. Grid experts have countered that cybersecurity is not tied to fuel type (Energywire, June 25).

Even so, Perry today reiterated warnings about the vulnerability of gas systems, warning that military installations reliant on the civilian grid could experience extended outages that could then affect the nation’s financial sector and hospitals. He noted that coal and nuclear plants have on-site fuel sources.

The lack of detail surrounding the policy, which could have far-reaching effects on the nation’s power grid and markets, is notable.

Perry defended the need for the directive today, saying a large amount of capacity has been taken offline, 56,000 megawatts of coal-fired generation during the last decade or so. Perry said a “like amount” of coal and nuclear generation — about 50,000 MW approximately — is scheduled to go offline in the next two years.

“My responsibility is to make sure when this country has a need for power, it’s there,” Perry said. “The economics is secondary, from my perspective. [The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission] looks at things from an economic standpoint, a market standpoint.”

Perry, who is slated to speak at the World Gas Conference in Washington this week, also addressed criticism from the natural gas sector that pipeline operators are being used as a “punching bag” in the name of propping up the coal and nuclear sectors. Perry said his home state of Texas has been a big beneficiary of shale gas that expanded under his watch, and the administration regularly promotes exporting domestic gas, with liquefied natural gas exports quadrupling from 2016 to 2017.

“If there is or has ever been a better salesperson for the American gas, I don’t know who it is,” Perry said. “I’d love to meet ’em.”