The Trump administration says it’s not going to pick winners and losers when it comes to energy generation, but it sure doesn’t seem to like wind and solar, judging from a recent presentation by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

The nation needs a diverse energy mix, including nuclear, coal, natural gas, and renewables, several energy industry executives and government officials said during the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s 21st Century Energy Institute 10th Anniversary Forum, held on June 20 in Washington, D.C. However, it seems clear that on the federal level, focus is quickly shifting in support of nuclear and fossil energy generation.

Cabinet Secretaries Tout “All of the Above”

President Donald Trump will usher in an era of energy “dominance,” according to  Zinke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

Zinke, while stating that the new administration would not favor one energy source over another, said that the “war on coal” is over, but he had some very harsh words about wind and solar. “To think we’re going to replace 30–35% of our nation’s energy by wind, or solar? Wind has an effect too. You know, wind chops up around 650 or 750,000 birds a year,” he said. Zinke then turned his aim at solar. “Is that the future? Having these three or four 80-foot towers with reflector cells the size of garage doors where it makes this cone—this sphere of death—so the birds go through it they get zapped?” he posited.

According to an April 2015 study conducted by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory, annual bird fatalities from wind energy facilities have been estimated at anywhere from 19,875 to 573,000. Annual Bird fatalities from fossil fuel power plants have been estimated at roughly 14 million, and at 332,323 annually from nuclear plants. The number one man-made threat to birds appears to be buildings and windows, which have been estimated to result in up to 988 million bird fatalities per year. A more recent study estimated avian mortality rates at utility-scale solar projects between 37,800 and 138,600 annually.

“But we’re not against any energy, we’re all of the above, but certainly fossil fuels and coal are going to be a part of our mix,” Zinke concluded.

Perry, in a prerecorded message, painted a picture of a future powered by nuclear and clean coal. “We’re pushing new technologies in nuclear energy, including small modular reactors, which will ensure that zero-emission nuclear power remains an important part of our power portfolio. We’re pursuing new technologies to ensure that cleaner burning coal remains part of our portfolio as well with carbon capture and the secondary uses of that byproduct,” Perry said. “This administration is more committed than ever to clean energy, and instead of preaching about clean energy, we’re acting on it.”

The call for a diverse energy mix was echoed by Thomas Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute. “It’s very easy for people to say, ‘Well, just do all solar. Let’s pick this technology over that technology,’ ” Kuhn said. “We need coal. We need nuclear. We need renewables.”

Industry Reps Call for Nuclear, Praise Shale

The energy system has changed a lot in the 10 years since the initiation of the 21st Century Energy Institute, which has now been renamed the “Global Energy Institute.” One of the most significant drivers in the changing energy system has been the shale gas boom. “The single biggest change has been the introduction of shale gas and the impact that that’s had on our industry, really giving us an opportunity to decarbonize and modernize generation,” Lynn Good, CEO of Duke Energy, said in a prerecorded message.

Good went on to state that Duke intends to continue to invest in nuclear power.  “Duke is proud of our nuclear plants. They’re really the workhorses of our generation fleet,” Good said. “As we look to the future, we’re going to be actively engaged in license renewal to see if we can continue to operate these plants for as long as we can safely operate them.”

Kuhn also noted the importance of nuclear in efforts to decarbonize. “With the combination of nuclear and renewables, right now about a third of our generation is from zero-carbon energy. That is one reason why we have been able to reduce carbon emissions.”


Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.