By Catherine Morehouse
June 12, 2019 - The Department of Energy (DOE) does not have the "regulatory or statutory ability" to create economic incentives for coal and nuclear plants, DOE Secretary Rick Perry told reporters on Tuesday at the 2019 Edison Electric Institute conference in Philadelphia.
"FERC would be where I would direct your attention," he said, adding that he was also not aware of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission or the White House making any progress on plans to bail out the fuels. "We're pretty much at the same place we were 12 months ago," he said, though the administration "continue[s] to talk ... very openly" about "an all of the above strategy."
The secretary's comments come three months after the White House Council of Economic Advisors released a report to the president calling for a strategic electricity reserve to save uneconomic plants. And earlier in March, Perry had told reporters a coal and nuclear bailout was not entirely off the table.
Perry's Tuesday remarks mark a departure from his previous commentary on DOE's efforts to save increasingly uneconomic coal and nuclear plants.
At CERAWeek in March, the secretary told reporters DOE was still "looking for answers" to plant retirements. And last month, Assistant Secretary of Fossil Energy Steven Winberg told Senators the department was working with the Colstrip plant in Montana "see what opportunities there are to keep it open."
But Perry on Tuesday seemed more inclined toward state-level intervention in economic assistance.
"Each state has their own economic right to either put tax credits, tax breaks [or] incentives in place," Perry said, responding to a question about his stance on House Bill 6 in Ohio, which would provide $190 million in nuclear subsidies annually through 2026.
"I will say I'm a big fan of the 'all of the above' energy strategy, and for your state to be successful, you need to have tax policy, regulatory policy, that sends the message that capital is welcome in your state," he said of the bill.
He's voiced support for Pennsylvania's nuclear bailout bill, which he said represented "thoughtful, competitive programs where states don't have to rely upon the federal government to support a particular industry sector."
Though the secretary said he hasn't definitively "seen any movement" from the White House or FERC on any plans to federally subsidize or bail out coal and nuclear power, he did acknowledge conversations on how to preserve the resources were ongoing.
"The previous administration in particular didn't like coal. They were clearly not looking to help the coal industry out at all. I just think we need it all," he said.
FERC fell under scrutiny last August after its Chief of Staff, Anthony Pugliese, told a nuclear group the commission was working with federal officials to identify "critical" power plants, seen by many as a first step in a larger two year federal bailout plan the White House released last June.
That plan is currently on hold, but the White House still calls for supporting uneconomic coal plants, even when industry finds retiring those units will save money.
In February, President Trump tweeted to the Tennessee Valley Authority, urging the utility to keep its Bull Run coal plant and Unit 3 of the Paradise coal plant open. But the TVA board of directors voted to close the units, which it projects will ultimately save customers over $1 billion.