Energy Secretary Rick Perry argued Friday morning that "there is no free market in energy" because he said the Obama administration unfairly boosted renewables, as he defended his much-criticized proposal to prop up coal and nuclear plants.
"It's really important to understand in general terms there is no free market in the energy industry and anyone who stands up and says you are affecting the free market, well, there is no free market," Perry told the audience at the Veterans in Energy Forum outside Washington, hosted by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. "Anyone who comes up and says that is not educated to what the reality of the market is."
Perry barely made news in his prepared speech to veterans. But during the question-and-answer session, he directly addressed critics of his proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to create regulations that would change regional power market pricing to reward the "reliability and resilience attributes" of plants that have 90 days of fuel supply on site, meaning coal and nuclear.
Perry suggested his support for coal and nuclear power is no different than the Obama administration's interest in expanding renewable energy. He said "baseload" power sources such as coal and nuclear, which provide round-the-clock power, are essential to the "future security of this country."
"We have elections, and they have consequences," Perry said. "Barack Obama clearly had his interest in the energy industry on renewables, they had their thumb on the scale at great detriment to reliable baseload industries that are really important for the future security of this country."
Perry insisted his proposal to FERC, which is independent, is "not a directive," but rather is meant to start a conversation. Still, he made clear what he would like FERC to do.
"It wasn't a directive to them," Perry said. "You need to take a look at this and have this conversation about making sure we have an energy foundation that is stable, resilient, and I happen to think coal and nuclear should be a part of that."
Perry, a veteran of the Air Force, was especially protective of the fledgling nuclear industry. He described nuclear power as a clean energy source that's important to maintain for national security reasons.
"Last I checked nuclear still has zero emissions," Perry said. "We've created so many regulations and changed rules for the nuclear industry that they are holding on with their fingernails."
Perry, despite his clear support for coal and nuclear power, argued he favors an "all of the above" approach to energy policy.
He bragged that Texas, the state Perry led as governor, is a leader in wind energy generation.
"For crying out loud, I helped create more wind energy than anywhere in the world, thank you," Perry said, to laughs from the crowd of veterans. "I truly am an all of the above [person]."
The energy secretary also promoted the important technology known as energy storage, which captures energy produced at one time for a later time. Energy storage is seen as crucial to advance renewable power sources that do not produce energy at all times, such as solar, which can only work when the sun is out.
"The holy grail of the future of energy is in storage, and we are working on it, in a lot of different ways," Perry said, adding that the Energy Department's national labs are researching new storage technologies. "We will be throwing a lot of Jello at the wall," he said. "That's our job."
Yet Perry made clear his belief that the growth in renewables cannot totally come at the expense of coal and nuclear power, and he said his proposal for FERC represents a major step towards lifting those industries.
"We need to be fair about this," Perry said. "We need to have a conversation about [how] it's important to have baseload power that is resilient, affordable and more importantly, would it be there when you need it, when some catastrophic event occurs? My job as secretary of energy is to be able to say yes to that."