The future of Kentucky depends on Secretary Perry’s support for renewable energy

by Anonymous Student

Donald Trump’s Secretary of Energy is a man who famously forgot the Department of lEnergy’s name when he called for the department’s disbandment at a 2012 primary debate. This man is Rick Perry, three term Governor of Texas and two time candidate for the Republican Presidential Nomination.

While he later said he regretted calling for the agency’s elimination, Perry has still come under fire for lacking the experience of the previous secretaries under President Obama. Obama’s first secretary was Steven Chu, the director of the Lawrence Berkeley Research Laboratory and holder of the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics. Chu was followed by Dr. Ernest Moniz, the head of the Physics Department at MIT. In contrast Perry’s scientific experience is a Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science

However, Perry is not being appointed as the Department of Energy’s top scientist, but it’s top administrator. He won’t be working in a lab, but instead managing a massive bureaucracy – something a person who ran the second most populous state for 12 years has experience of.

Perry will also be asked to draw upon his experience in Texas of revitalizing aging energy infrastructure. It’s an energy policy that Perry describes as “All of the above,” meaning it includes not only renewable forms of energy but traditional, non-renewable sources as well.

This will help the Kentucky coal industry sleep a little better at night. As Governor, Perry issued an executive order to fast track coal plant permits during his time as Governor. That being said, coal still fell from providing 42% of Texas’s energy to providing 37% while Perry was governor.

This followed a continuing trend of decline in the coal industry. In a new report by the International Energy Agency, they predict the global demand for coal will  peak in the next few years as major consumers like China and Europe turn towards renewable energy. This comes to no surprise to the Kentucky coal industry, which has been on the decline as the state looks to diversify its economy.

A pivot towards renewable energy has also been a trademark of Perry’s energy policy.

During his time as governor, Perry supported a 7 billion dollar project to create transmission lines between West Texas wind farms and large cities in the central part of the state (paid for with a utility tax.)

As a result of this, Texas is the top generator of wind energy in the U.S., with wind energy accounting for 40% of the state’s energy production during some particularly windy days. To put their wind production in perspective, if Texas were its own country, it would be the fourth largest producer of wind energy.

Texas’s wind revolution has also allowed many farmers, like Russ Petty of Texas, to keep the family farm alive and within the family. The income that Petty and landowners like Petty make off of their windmills is reliable when everything isn’t.

Alongside wind energy, Perry  supports development of more nuclear power generators, which many say will be a key to becoming carbon-neutral. Former Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear took a similar stance, recommending Kentucky remove its ban on Nuclear power plants in an address regarding his 2008 energy plan. Beshear pointed out that every state bordering Kentucky had at least one plant, adding: “I don’t think there’s any question that it’s going to be a part of this country’s energy future. The question is whether it’s going to be part of Kentucky’s future.”

It’s important to note that Texas’s wind revolution came in no small part due to improvements in wind technology, that allow larger windmills, and make these larger windmills easier to construct.

These improvements came from the exact type of investments in research that Secretary Perry will be expected to authorize, through organizations such as the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research. In order to keep American energy on the cutting edge, investments in basic research are needed.

That research, along with the infrastructure projects Perry approved as governor, and the Obama era renewable energy incentives are what helped Texas transition into its new, more renewable, economy. If Kentucky and the U.S. as a whole are to follow Texas’s lead, we will need the same type of cooperation between science and public policy.

So far, it appears that Secretary Perry will defend this cooperation. In an energy industry publication, former Department of Energy Deputy Chief of Staff Jeff Navin described the coming battle over budget to be a match-up between Perry and the White House. Last Wednesday Perry tweeted favorably about ARPA-E, an office in the Department of Energy supporting energy research that is supposedly on the chopping block in the drafts of Trump’s budget.

When pressed about cuts to the agency’s budget in his confirmation hearing, Perry said: “I will be an advocate (for the programs) … but I’m not sure I’m going to be 1,000 percent successful.”

For the sake of the future of American energy, let’s hope he at least makes it to 100 percent.