Energy Secretary Rick Perry will focus on electric grid reliability, blackouts, and cybersecurity when he visits the Pacific Northwest National Lab on Tuesday, though he has yet to release a major new study on the subject that was due more than a month ago.
"Overall, we can say Secretary Perry will hear about our grid work. In addition, he will hear about our cybersecurity research," Greg Koller, the lab's head of external affairs, told the Washington Examiner in an email.
The Pacific lab in Richland, Wash., puts a special focus on grid reliability, especially after the August 2003 East Coast blackout, which saw the nation's grid go down from Ohio to New York City. The lab has developed the nation's premier simulation system to help government, grid operators and utilities research issues that could bring down the grid. Monday marked the 14th anniversary of the blackout, which was caused by a simple lack of tree pruning.
The outage spurred Congress to pass comprehensive energy legislation in 2005 that gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission new powers to ensure grid reliability, including the creation of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, which develops mandatory, enforceable standards for the utility industry. FERC is an independent regulatory agency that falls under Perry's purview as energy secretary.
Perry had promised to issue a major grid reliability study last month, which has yet to be produced. The study is meant to report on the state of the nation's baseload coal and nuclear power plants and the effects policies are having on grid reliability. The Sierra Club sued Perry on Monday for not responding to a Freedom of Information Act request on who is advising the agency. The group suspected that the study is being guided by the fossil fuel industry and will lean heavily toward coal over wind and solar in the report.
The Energy Department did not respond to questions on Tuesday's visit.
Perry also will visit the lab's Environmental and Molecular Sciences Laboratory and will make other stops on the tour, Koller said. Perry will deliver an address to lab staff, but Koller could not say what topic he plans to discuss.
Perry's visit to the lab is part of an August tour of the fleet of national research facilities that the Energy Department manages. The tour comes amid increased speculation that Perry may be tapped soon to head the Department of Homeland Security, with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia being eyed to replace him. Reports on the Cabinet changeup follow the loss of John Kelly, who headed DHS before becoming President Trump's chief of staff.
Perry will be joined by Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, as well as Rep. Greg Walden of Oregon, the chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., who serves on the House Appropriations energy and water panel.
Perry tweeted that he toured the McNary hydroelectric dam on Monday after touching down in Washington state. He also plans to tour the Hanford nuclear weapons site in Washington, which is a great concern for the state because of the radioactive waste that is stored there and its proximity to the Columbia River. The site was part of the World War II Manhattan Project to produce plutonium for a nuclear bomb.
In May, part of a tunnel where waste was being stored collapsed, setting off an emergency response. At the time, the White House said it was monitoring the developments at the site. Perry said after the emergency subsided that the incident "is a reminder that the men and women who work for the Department of Energy do incredible work, but that work does not come without risk. Thankfully, the system worked as it should and all are safe."