By Gavin Bade
March 14, 2019 - The Department of Energy (DOE) has not given up on crafting a financial support package for at-risk coal and nuclear plants, Secretary Rick Perry said Wednesday, but he encouraged states to devise their own programs as well.
DOE is still "looking for answers" to plant retirements, Perry said. He declined to comment on recent remarks from a Pennsylvania legislator, who said DOE staff told the state to pursue nuclear subsidies because no federal bailout was forthcoming.
Perry, however, said he would be "inclined" to subsidize nuclear plants if he were a Pennsylvania policymaker, and said he supports "those types of thoughtful, competitive programs where states don't have to rely upon the federal government to support a particular industry sector."
While the front lines of coal and nuclear debates have recently shifted to the states, Perry's Wednesday comments show discussions are still ongoing at the federal level.
"We're looking for the answers to a question that vexes us at the moment," Perry said, reiterating his frequent argument that allowing the large generators to go offline could leave the power supply at risk of disruption.
Perry offered little detail on the state of those discussions during his remarks at the CERAWeek conference in Houston. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied DOE's first bailout request last year, and a subsequent plan to save the plants using DOE's emergency powers stalled at the White House over legal concerns.
"I'm open to conversations," Perry told reporters at the event. "I've thrown a lot of Jell-O at the wall on this one trying to find some solutions that we can all, or at least a majority of us, can get behind."
Amid inaction from the federal government, states are taking matters into their own hands. New York, New Jersey and Illinois have all approved nuclear power subsidies in recent years, and Wyoming this month passed a new law to provide a potential lifeline to retiring coal plants. A separate coal support package is being debated in Montana.
Last week, Pennsylvania joined the fray as legislators introduced a new bill to provide subsidies for the state's nine nuclear plants. Shortly after its release, the bill's main sponsor told Utility Dive that DOE staff had encouraged the state to move on the issue.
"My question to them was, 'Do we have to act as a state or is the federal government going to do anything?'" said Rep. Thomas Mehaffie, R. "They said, 'No, you have to act as a state.'"
Perry sidestepped the specifics of the bill, saying he was "not aware of any conversations" on the measure. But he also offered general support for the idea that states should save retiring coal and nuclear plants.
"I think those are wise conversations, wise discussions to have about are there industries in our state that are worth ... subsidizing, supporting?" Perry said. "I think I'd be inclined, if I were the governor of Pennsylvania, to try to keep a job creator in business and to help them be innovative on how you put the program together."