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article imageOp-Ed: Perry pushes 'new energy realism' - But is it a step backward?

By Karen Graham     Mar 14, 2018 in Technology
Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry spoke at the annual oil and gas conference in Houston, Texas last week, giving attendees a brief look at his vision for the future of energy in the U.S. - calling it the "new energy realism."
CERA Week is the annual energy conference organized by the information and insights company IHS Markit in Houston, Texas. Speakers at the annual conference have included leaders in the energy, policy, technology, and financial industries.
This year, one of the speakers was Department of Energy head, Rick Perry, one of Texas' own. He gave a rousing "campaign-style" speech - announcing a national energy policy that he dubbed “the new energy realism.”
The new energy realism
The Texas Monthly reports that Perry said the tenets of the new approach "were a belief in innovation rather than regulation and a warm embrace of the fossil fuels that scientists believe are responsible for climate change."
While Perry didn't mention the DOE plan to get companies to develop at least two designs of small or modular coal plants — without carbon capture — by 2022, he did mention something more troublesome. Perry said one of his top priorities is protecting the country from another Category 5 hurricane destroying the Houston Ship Channel.
Instead of discussing the many proposals for protecting the ship channel, like the "Ike Dike," a coastal barrier that would protect the Galveston-Houston region, Perry proposed building a new ship channel in the Appalachians.
That's right - a shipping channel in the Appalachian region, right in the heart of "Trump Country." Perry said, "From a national security standpoint, it made sense to ask where could you go to duplicate that [oil refining] footprint in this country? And the Appalachian region came to mind.”
Perry argued it would make sense to build redundant petroleum refining capacity in Appalachia, and as an added benefit, it would be a “powerful tonic” for the mining industry. But getting a big oil company to build extra capacity infrastructure in the middle of Kentucky or West Virginia is questionable, at best.
Big businesses say they want to help the transition to clean energy. Pictured here is an unused coal...
Big businesses say they want to help the transition to clean energy. Pictured here is an unused coal mine in Black Mountain, Virginia.
The DOE's behind-the-scenes work
As many Americans have learned over the last 14 months, the Trump Administration has a tendency to speak out of both sides of its mouth. Despite all Perry's public talk about energy efficiency, and the move toward renewables and natural gas, there is still the Trump mandate to further coal production and use in this country and make it available in abundance to the world.
In September of 2017, Perry tried to get the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to increase rates for coal and nuclear power plants in order to save them from closing. But Congress criticized the plan as being nothing more than a government giveaway promoted by coal magnate Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy, according to the Laredo Morning Times.
Now, we come to the DOE's 2019 Budget Request. Buried deep in the pages of the document is a request to develop at least two designs of small or modular coal plants — without carbon capture — by 2022. The budget requests $175 million to meet that goal and develop new, higher efficiency coal generators.
Cloud Peak Energy Inc.
Forget about carbon capture and storage (CCS) - Now we're looking at a future with mini-coal-fired power plants. Steve Winberg, the assistant secretary for fossil energy, told reporters at the CERA Conference the DOE's budget proposal would cut carbon capture research by 80 percent, but not totally eliminate it. The DOE is asking for a 50 percent increase in funding for high-efficiency coal plants and small, modular designs.
Where in the world did Perry come up with the phrase "small modular" coal plants.? The term is usually in reference to compact nuclear power plants, something that has been in development for years. They are referred to as SMRs, an acronym for 'small modular reactor', designed for serial construction and collectively to comprise a large nuclear power plant.
Axios is reporting that Jesse Jenkins, an energy analyst getting his Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, said he hadn’t heard of small modular coal plants in any modern context. “You mean like the kind we used to build in 1920?” He said. “It sounds like going backward to an earlier generation of smaller plants.”
And without support from the private sector, the administration’s latest attempt to prop up the death of the coal sector by promoting a new generation of small, modular coal-fired power plants won't get off the ground.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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