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Energy Secretary Perry in Colo.: No NREL cuts planned

Author: Liz Forster, The Gazette - August 14, 2018 - Updated: August 30, 2018

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry (right), U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (middle) and Martin Keller, director of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, at NREL on Aug. 14, 2018 (Liz Forster / The Gazette)

GOLDEN — U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Tuesday expressed confidence that the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden will not face cuts in the 2019 budget despite President Donald Trump’s previous calls for reductions.

“I don’t get spun about the president’s budget,” Perry said during his visit to the federal lab with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner. “I deal with the reality, which I think is a pretty nice budget to fund the National Renewable Energy Lab and other energy labs around the country from a management standpoint at the Department of Energy.”

In February, the Trump administration proposed a 72 percent budget cut for the Energy Department’s renewable energy and energy efficiency programs in 2019. The cuts ultimately were not included in Congress’ omnibus spending bill.

The Trump team also had proposed cuts to renewable programs the year before; those didn’t happen, either.

NREL employed 1,700 scientists and researchers in 2017 contributed $872 million annually to the Colorado economy and had drawn $380 billion in private sector investment up to that point, the Denver Business Journal reported.

Tuesday’s NREL visit was Perry’s 14th of a 17-stop tour of national energy labs across the country, including the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory for fusion energy research.

Perry also has visited the Falkirk coal mine in North Dakota and the FitzPatrick Nuclear Power Plant in New York.

Perry — a former Texas governor and presidential candidate — is an outspoken advocate for the continued use of fossil fuels, particularly coal power, and has rejected findings that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are the primary cause of climate change.

In June, he defended the president’s draft memo to halt the closures of coal and nuclear power plants, The Washington Post reported. The memo ordered grid operators to buy electricity from plants that are at-risk of retiring due to cheaper energy availability from renewable sources and natural gas.

In March, he called the global shift away from fossil fuels “immoral,” saying it threatened poorer nations from developing economically, The Hill reported.

But at NREL, the nation’s hub for the move from fossil fuels, Perry celebrated the “innovation” he has seen during his tour, specifically the advances in solar cells and in wind energy efficiency.

“The innovation between these walls is just stunning,” he said. “To see where we’ve come in renewable energy during the past couple of years, it’s amazing.”

The lab highlighted the contributions of wind, solar, hydro, hydrogen and fuel cell technologies to an “all of the above strategy,” Perry said.

Acknowledging the rapid advances in renewable technology, Perry held firm in his stance that coal and nuclear must be the foundation of the country’s energy grid to protect from cyberattacks, natural disasters and other potential disruptions.

“When you combine that with the knowledge that 99 percent of our military bases take from the civilian grid, it makes abundant sense to me, and I think as it does the administration, that we make sure that there is a baseload capability that only coal and nuclear can bring.”

When asked about the rapidly declining price of renewables and battery storage that is, in places, cheaper than coal and fossil fuels, Gardner stepped in, saying the increasing viability of such technologies is part of a broader “energy future” for Colorado and the U.S.

“Wind and solar are part of a diverse set of fuels that help develop our economy and bring jobs to places like Colorado,” he said.

Liz Forster, The Gazette

Liz Forster, The Gazette