The nation’s power grid may or may not have reliability issues if too many renewables are added to the energy mix, according to conflicting statements by Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Commissioner Colette D. Honorable.
Speaking June 27 at the Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) 2017 Conference in Washington, D.C., Perry suggested that an overabundance of renewables in the nation’s energy mix could result in decreased grid reliability. “Our plan is to use America’s abundant resources to ensure grid reliability and economic security. It’s not reasonable to rely exclusively on fossil fuels. It’s not feasible to rely exclusively on renewables,” Perry said. “We are working to find the right balance so that we have a diverse supply of energy that’s clean and affordable, and a grid that is safe and reliable.”
Honorable, however, had a very different take on the threat renewables pose to reliability when she spoke at the conference just after Perry. “Do I recognize we have to be attentive to supporting the different ways in which renewables work? Yes,” she said. “I don’t see any problems with reliability, and I say bring on more renewables,” she said, noting the significant amount of renewables in the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO) markets.
Who Killed Fossil Fuels?
To ensure reliability, Perry suggested, it is important that coal remains a significant part of the energy mix. Coal has been on the decline for several years and, according to Perry, it’s due in no small part to the Obama administration showing favoritism to renewables. “These politically driven policies, driven primarily by hostility to coal, threatens the reliability and the stability of the greatest electrical grid in the world,” he said.
Honorable, who has announced this will be her last week as a FERC commissioner, noted that according to the EIA, natural gas in 2016 accounted for more of the nation’s energy production that coal. “We have been seeing that. I would suggest to you it’s been less about regulation and more about economics,” Honorable said.
While Perry admits that markets have had an impact on the decline of coal, he placed a much greater emphasis on regulation. “I recognize markets have had a role in the evolution of our energy mix,” Perry said. “But no reasonable person can deny the thumb, or even the whole hand if you will, that’s been put on the scale in favor of certain political outcomes.”
Need for Nuclear
Perry also touched on the need to support the nation’s nuclear fleet, particularly by addressing the growing need for a safe, permanent place to store spent nuclear fuel. “This is a failing of both Republicans, Democrats, Independents, all lumped together, that nuclear waste has sat idle in 120 sites in 39 states for decades with all the potential for a disaster that could happen with no permanent repository for it to be safely disposed. On my watch I intend to change that, working together to find the solution to those challenges,” he said.
In its 2018 budget request, the Trump administration requested a total of $150 million to resume the Energy Department’s application to license a permanent disposal site for spent nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nye County, Nev.
—Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.