Texas' energy industry is in flux.
The state's seen recent closures of three coal-powered power plants, as the state market shifts toward renewable sources like wind and solar energy. And, on the national level, the state's former governor is lobbying to extend a hand to the nation's struggling coal and nuclear industries.
KUT's Mose Buchele spoke to Jennifer Stayton about what the closures mean for Texas' energy industry and about this week's rejection of a plan from Secretary of Energy Rick Perry to subsidize nuclear and coal power.
Jennifer Stayton: So much is going on in the news these days. It's easy to forget that Texas and the whole country is undergoing a massive upheaval in the world of energy. This week there seemed to be a major story out every day about how we power our homes and our lives. We heard a lot about coal power and to keep us up to date, I'm joined by Mose Buchele, KUT's energy and environment reporter. Good to see you, Mose.
Mose Buchele: Hey Jen.
JS: So, Mose, what went down this week?
MB: OK, so, it started with a pretty big defeat for a guy you've probably heard of Rick Perry. Sound familiar?
JS: Oh yeah. Former Texas governor, current head of the Department of Energy.
MB: That's right. Perry had proposed a plan that if it had gone through would have been a massive handout to the coal industry, and basically it would have subsidized coal and nuclear power.
JS: How's that?
MB: So, he argued that coal and nuclear plants deserve subsidies because they are especially valuable in the event of a natural disaster or an attack of some kind. There's just one problem with that. Here to lay out that problem is Severin Borenstein he's at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
Severin Borenstein [on tape]: There isn't a study that actually shows it's incredibly valuable, and, in fact, the early version of the Department of Energy study of resiliency – before it got rewritten by the leadership – actually said it wasn't incredibly valuable and there really isn't a reliability and resiliency problem.
MB: So, yeah, the reality is that almost everyone saw this simply as an attempt to make good on President Trump's promise to save the coal industry. But, at the end of the day, it didn't work.
JS: So what happened?
MB: For the plan to go forward, a group called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had to approve it. Instead, the commission unanimously rejected Perry's proposal. It was kind of a stunning setback, because four of the five commissioners are Trump appointees. But they just weren't buying what Perry was selling.
JS :So that's bad news for coal, but good news then for other power sources?
MB: Yeah, yeah. Good news for things like natural gas and renewables for sure, and that was underscored later in the week when the U.S. Energy Information Administration announced that almost all power plants that were retired in the last decade in the U.S. were powered by fossil fuels.
JS: Right, but what about here in Texas?
MB: In Texas, it's the same story. Just this week the Sandow coal power plant shut down – that's only about an hour outside Austin. And that followed close on the heels of two other coal plants in Texas that have shut down.
JS: So, Mose, what's behind all these closures?
MB: Mostly, it's market forces. Low-cost renewables and natural gas are running coal out of business, and that's what Perry wanted to change up with these subsidies. But, like I said, that didn't work.
JS: Mose Buchele covers energy and the environment for KUT. Mose, thanks so much.
MB: Thanks Jennifer.