Lawmakers slam DOE’s proposal to help coal, nuclear power

Lawmakers slam DOE’s proposal to help coal, nuclear power
© Greg Nash

Lawmakers used a Thursday hearing with Energy Secretary Rick PerryJames (Rick) Richard PerryPerry pictured with falcon, sword during trek to Saudi Arabia Trump promised ‘best people’ would run government — they upended it US oil and gas boom will actually help spur energy revolution MORE to criticize his recent proposal to prop up coal and nuclear plants with higher payments for their electricity.

Numerous Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy subpanel, and one Republican, said the plan would be unnecessarily disruptive to energy market and prop up power plants that aren't competitive.

“You are distorting the market, damaging the environment and delivering preferential treatment to favored industries,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the full committee, told Perry.

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“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,” he said.

Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said the proposal doesn’t align with Perry’s free-market energy policies from his time as Texas’s governor.

“Attacks are coming saying that you prefer government control over the free markets. We both know that’s a pile of Bevo longhorn poo-poo,” Olson said, referring to the mascot of the University of Texas at Austin.

“You’ve spent your whole life supporting a diversified American portfolio for energy,” he said.

It was Perry’s first testimony on Capitol Hill in months, giving lawmakers an opportunity to grill him about his proposal to overhaul the nation’s energy markets to favor coal and nuclear.

Under the proposal he sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for review, certain regional grid operators would have to give higher payments to plants with 90 days of fuel on site, which applies only to coal and nuclear.

The proposal was made in the name of grid resiliency, under the argument that coal and nuclear plants closing is a threat to the grid.

Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said the committee and others have been discussing whether to change policies for resilience, but Perry’s proposal doesn’t fit into that process.

“There are many other levers to pull or smaller tweaks than what you’re directing FERC to do,” Doyle said.

“What you’re proposing ... is rather extreme. You talk about putting fingers on the scale, you’re putting a heavy finger on the scale here,” he said.

Perry defended his proposal on multiple fronts, including by invoking the 2014 Polar Vortex’s impact on the grid. The Energy secretary said he is merely trying to start a conversation.

“As an elected official, I never wanted to have to explain to somebody why we didn’t have the vision to put into place a reliable and resilient electrical power system,” he told lawmakers.

“This has been talked about a lot, but there hadn’t been any action. And I want to push the FERC and this country to take action so that we don’t face that event in the future where people’s lives are put into jeopardy or this country’s national security is jeopardized,” Perry continued.

He also pushed back on the idea that he is disrupting a free market. He argued that there is no free market in electricity and that he has no problem subsidizing certain sources.

“I think the idea that there is a free market in electrical generation is a fallacy,” he said.

“We subsidize a lot of different energy sources. We subsidized wind energy, we subsidize ethanol, we subsidize solar, we subsidize oil and gas,” he continued. “The question is: How do you make it as fair as you can?”

“I don’t know if I want to bet someone’s grandmother’s safety and security on whether the or not the lights are going to come on on a pure, totally and absolutely unregulated [market],” Perry said.

Perry’s proposal did get some support from lawmakers, like Rep. David McKinleyDavid Bennett McKinleyHouse rejects Democrat's resolution to impeach Trump Lawmakers slam DOE’s proposal to help coal, nuclear power Lawmakers try again on miners’ pension bill MORE (R-W.Va.).

“I don’t see any daylight between you and me on this subject, particularly as it relates to reliability. I am 100 percent what your position is on that, to give us a reliable grid system,” McKinley said.

“I’m alarmed that people are ignoring what’s already here that we have,” he said.