Rick Perry joined the Resurgent Gathering in Austin, TX on Saturday to discuss energy policy with Erick Erickson and the over 300 attendees. Perry walked onto the stage with a solid applause from a conservative crowd that included an almost 50% representation of Texans.
The discussion covered a range of topics, including Perry’s experience working with Trump, cybersecurity, the growth of liquified natural gas (LNG), and nuclear energy.
Currently, the overarching theme in the energy industry is the rapid growth of American energy independence. This seemed like a distant reality just 15 years ago.
For example, the U.S. has gone from a net importer to a net exporter of LNG within the span of a few years. United States exports to Mexico have doubled since 2009, and they’re expected to continue rising through 2020.
“This energy scenario – we’re blessed, but keep this in mind,” Perry explained, “We’ve had almost 1,000 watts of nuclear and coal taken offline in the last 10 years and replaced by gas. And the projections are still trending in the same direction.”
Erickson focused early questions on the state of nuclear energy in the United States. Times have been tough for the U.S. nuclear energy industry. Overbearing regulations, the rapid growth of LNG, and foreign competition have strained nuclear energy development.
Perry acknowledged that the low price of LNG puts it at a significant advantage compared to coal, oil, and nuclear, but LNG comes with higher risk and volatility.
“While gas is cheap,” said Perry, “I’m not sure if it’s the most resilient or reliable form.”
Today, 99 nuclear reactors provide approximately 20% of the nation’s energy. There are some prospects for the continued development of nuclear energy that could make sense. For example, nuclear energy produces next to no emissions as compared to other forms of energy. But the future of nuclear energy won't look anything like the past.
“My bet is that we’re done building these really big nuclear reactors,” Perry said, “We have the ability to create a resurgent nuclear energy push in the government, but we’re looking at small modular reactors… They’re smaller and easier to build.”
NuScale Power, a nuclear power company, developed small modular nuclear technology and is building a new nuclear plant in Idaho Falls, ID.
"They're the perfect fit for areas where there's not a lot of natural gasses readily available," Jose Reyes, co-founder of NuScale Power, said in a January 2018 interview. "For utilities that have coal fire plants that they would like to retire."
Perry also touched on the Trump administration’s nuclear negotiations with Saudi Arabia. These agreements are known as 123 Agreements. Presently, the U.S. has entered into 123 Agreements with 48 countries and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Perry expressed caution in entering a 123 Agreement with Saudi Arabia due to regional instability in the Middle East and risks for nuclear proliferation with Iran.
But projections say that Saudi Arabia will have a drastic reduction in fossil fuels by 2040, according to Perry. Proponents of a Saudi nuclear agreement argue that the language in 123 Agreements includes effective nonproliferation restrictions and that it would open a wide avenue for increased commercial nuclear trade with the Saudis.
The Department of Energy also carries the burden of managing cybersecurity of America’s energy industry. There are daily cyber-attacks on power grids across the country. Electric power control panels are pinged “millions of times per day,” according to Perry. Typically, the attacks come from a combination of nation-states, terror groups, and hackers, et al. It’s a grave concern, and the responsibility largely falls upon the DOE.
“When the New York Times says they’re more concerned about Russians affecting our electric grid, and not our elections, then we know that it’s a serious threat,” Perry said.
There was some disagreement from conservatives regarding a comment Perry made describing his experience working for Trump. He said Trump is a "happy warrior" and that "Reagan ain't got nothing on Trump." This controversial comment was superbly covered here by The Resurgent's Peter Heck.