Perry on stalled grid plan: Costs ‘minuscule’ over disaster

Source: Mike Lee, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, October 25, 2018

DALLAS — The cost of subsidizing America’s coal and nuclear plants would be “minuscule” compared with the overall cost of defending the country, Energy Secretary Rick Perry said today in an argument for advancing his department’s stalled proposal to prop up older forms of power generation.

Perry ordered Energy Department staffers last year to investigate whether subsidies for wind and solar power were forcing coal plants to shut down early. The department submitted a plan to the White House last year that would subsidize coal and nuclear stations in the name of national defense.

The plan has been held up by the National Security Council, and a White House staffer earlier this month called it “poorly articulated” (Greenwire, Oct. 16).

Perry, speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a conference sponsored by consulting firm CG/LA Infrastructure Inc. in Dallas, said the plan has to be viewed in terms of the broader security picture.

“Our defense budget is over $700 billion. Is some amount of money to make sure that we have a resilient, reliable grid an appropriate expenditure?” he asked. “I don’t know what that exact amount is, but it would be minuscule compared to what we spend on national defense.”

The worst-case scenario for the U.S. power grid would involve a harsh winter like the 2014 “polar vortex,” combined with a cyberattack and a physical attack on a gas pipeline serving the Northeast, Perry said. Those three threats combined could black out New York City’s financial center, he said.

“If you couldn’t get that system back up, it could be pretty devastating,” he said. “My point is, are you willing to take a chance on that?”

DOE argues that coal and nuclear plants are more secure than gas-fired generation because of their on-site fuel. But experts warn that a wide-ranging cyberattack or extreme natural disaster could damage transmission lines as well as gas pipelines and where the grid is taken down no power goes through from any source.

Conservatives, along with other energy producers like the oil and gas industry, have argued it’s inappropriate to provide subsidies to coal and nuclear generators. Perry declined to address those arguments (Energywire, Oct. 17).

“I’ll let the White House or anybody else defend their positions,” he said.