President Trump’s Secretary of Energy Rick Perry has taken to wearing black horn-rimmed glasses, apparently to make him look smarter, but he still sounded pretty dumb today when he testified before the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy Subcommittee.
Perry was supposed to be defending a controversial federal rule he has proposed – but he had a hard time making his case, or even sounding like he had many facts to back up his arguments – that seemed to mostly be a handout to coal and nuclear power producers.
Perry was on the hot seat as the Congresspeople grilled him on a proposal he first floated in April that would provide billions more for troubled nuclear plant projects and provide a huge subsidy to the ailing coal industry, mostly at the cost of alternative energy sources.
Perry is pushing a new federal rule that must be approved by FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) which would provide subsidies to coal and nuclear power plants that keep at least 90 days worth of fuel on site, arguing that would provide more reliability in an emergency; and provide subsidies for building nuclear plants.
Critics say all it would really do increase costs to consumers and prop up plants that are not economically viable while taking away from the development of alternative energy sources.
Another corporate giveaway in the works by Trump & GOP– this proposal will raise utility rates for American families https://t.co/EWfhMFfyuj
— Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) October 10, 2017
After weeks of pushing his plan, Perry sounded wishy-washy as he came under pressure to explain his reasoning. He kept saying he just wanted to kick off an important conversation about improving the reliability of America’s electrical grid.
Rep. Bobby Rush (D-IL) asked Perry for concrete evidence that his proposed rule really would improve the resiliency and reliability of the power grid? What studies had he done? What facts did he have this would make a big difference?
Perry said he didn’t really have any studies or detailed analysis and said that he had come up with this rule based on his own personal experiences.
“Your life experiences inform you about future events,” said Perry, “and this is a great example of it.”
Perry said his knowledge was based on a series of blackouts in Texas when he was governor.
“One of the things as an elected official I never wanted to have to explain to anybody,” said Perry, “is why we didn’t have the vision to put in place…a resilient power system.”
The Dallas Morning News investigated the rolling blackouts that Perry was citing which was caused by a winter storm in 2011 that knocked 50 power plants off the electric grid. “Some outages were, in fact, coal-fired power plants that automatically shut down when the cold weather interfered with the plant’s motioning systems,” reports Think Progress.
Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) asked Perry if he had measured the cost to consumers of his plan.
“I think you take costs into account,” said Perry in his non-answer, “but what’s the cost of freedom? What the cost to keep America free?”
While Perry kept saying he just wanted to start a conversation, the Congress members kept asking him if that was his goal, why has he requested that his rule be put into force in a mere 60 days after only a 45-day public comment period.
Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa) was also critical of Perry’s repeated claim that there needed to be this conversation. Doyle cited eight different hearings the subcommittee had previously held on the same subject of grid reliability.
“We have actually been having the conversation you are taking credit for starting,” said Doyle, adding: “You say you want a conversation, but you’re ordering FERC to make big changes within 60 days. Which is it?”
“My words are my words,” responded Perry. “It is both. It can be both. We can have a conversation, and I think they must act.”
Perry blamed the emphasis on new sources of renewable energy for lessening the reliability of coal and nuclear power, which is why he said his new rule is needed. However, a study done by his department in April found that renewables had no such impact.
Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) pressed Perry to cite specific studies or analysis, even demanding in writing that Perry detail meetings that took place to discuss this new rule.
Perry didn’t answer directly, instead returning to his same lame argument: “My point with this is I want to start a conversation…so that we don’t face the event in the future where people’s lives are put in jeopardy or where this count’s national security is jeopardized because we refuse to buy into the concept that we need a very diverse energy portfolio.”
In light of the Trump administration’s efforts to cut subsidies for numerous industries and services, Perry was also asked to defend his position that it was fine for the government to subsidize these particular forms of energy.
Perry said the government already subsidizes oil and gas, wind and other alternative energy, but didn’t bother to mention coal already gets a benefit from the federal coal leasing program, which allows companies to under-compensate taxpayers for coal that is mined on federally-owned lands.
President Obama had started a process to phase out the coal subsidies but in March the Trump administration terminated that review process.
Perry’s proposal would change regulations to reward the “reliability and resilience attributes” of power plants that buy a lot of extra coal or nuclear fuel to have a big supply on hand.
“A wide swath of the energy industry, form oil and natural gas, to solar and wind farms, opposed the proposed rule and the expedited timeline under which Perry wants FERC… to make a decision,” reports the Washington Examiner.
“Critics have derided Perry’s proposal for its potential to upset the last two decades of electricity generation,” continues the Washington Examiner, “which have been marked by free competition and little intrusion by the government.”
Rep. Pallone said Perry was “distorting the market, damaging the environment, and delivering preferential treatment to favored industries. At the end of the day, killing off competitive electricity markets just to save generation assets that are no longer economical will lead to higher prices for consumers.”
While protecting the grid and energy reliability are good goals to pursue, the system already had built in resilience to most weather problems, squirrels (the number two reason for power outages), physical and even cyber attacks, any of which might in theory shut off the flow of power.
“But stockpiling coal or uranium would not mitigate these threats,” write Miranda Ballentine, a former assistant secretary of the Air Force now at a sustainable-energy reearch gorup and Mark Dyson of the Rocky MNountain Institutes electricity practice, in a Los Angeles Times op-ed.
“Nor would Perry’s rule improve the long-term resilience of America’s energy grid,” they continue, “because it fails to address its biggest point of weakness, the grid itself. Virtually all threats to the U.S. power grid manifest in the transmission and distribution system.”
Curiously, Perry proposal for over $3 billion to subsidize the building of nuclear power plans that have already received over $8 billion in subsidies and loans, and are still way behind schedule and over budget, depends on a program Trump wants to kill.
The aid would come from the Energy Department’s loan guarantee program which in Trump’s 2018 budget would be abolished.
Republicans have criticized the Energy Department’s loan guarantees, like the one given to the Solyndra solar manufacturer that went bankrupt.
So Perry is pushing a plan to subsidize failing businesses with no facts, studies or serious analysis to back up him up, using a program that Trump wants to eliminate, which Republicans for years have claimed was a huge waste of money.
However, it clearly would be a big payoff to Perry and Trump’s cronies in the coal and nuclear industries whose business model is melting in the face of new competitors.
Unlike Perry, we don’t need horn-rimmed glasses to see that this is another ripoff of consumers, bad news for the development of new energy generators and a big giveaway to a handful of corporate donors.