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US DOE's Perry sees storage as potential 'Holy Grail', sings fossil fuels' praises

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Battery storage got an unexpected boost from US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry Thursday, during a Washington appearance in which he also praised fossil fuels for saving lives, and continued to tout efforts to stave off the retirements of baseload generation.

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Perry, at a forum held by Axios, referenced battery storage as he emphasized the difficulties of predicting what the energy world will look like 10 years down the road.

"The Holy Grail of energy may be in a national [laboratory], somewhere in somebody's lab or in somebody's garage," Perry said. "It's about battery storage. Battery storage changes the world, I will suggest, the same way that hydraulic fracturing and directional drilling has changed the world."

Jason Burwen, policy and advocacy director of the Energy Storage Association, called it a new and welcome comparison from Perry, while noting it was unclear whether it signaled any change in Department of Energy's activities.

"Certainly, we at ESA agree with Secretary Perry that energy storage is a huge game-changer for the electric system, and it's critical that the US continue leading on battery storage, both in deploying cost-effective technologies today and developing next generation technologies of tomorrow," he said.

Both the House of Representatives and Senate fiscal year 2017 appropriations bills previously proposed to increase DOE's appropriations for energy storage research and development, he noted, adding: "I suppose we'll wait and see what DOE proposes to do on such a groundbreakingly important technology."

The reference comes as Perry's recent public appearances have found him playing defense on the administration's effort to help preserve the traditional sources of baseload power -- coal and nuclear generation -- through a notice of proposed rulemaking DOE sent the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission September 28.

The proposal, as initially floated, would guarantee full cost recovery to generators with 90 days of fuel onsite, and a wide swath of the energy sector has warned it would disadvantage fuel sources other than coal and nuclear generation and disrupt competitive wholesale markets.

Perry on Thursday continued to tout that proposal as an effort to rebalance markets "because the previous administration clearly had their thumb on the scale towards the renewables side" while offering assurances that "I'm a big fan of renewables." It is also critical to ensure there is adequate capacity available in electric markets, he said.

"I don't want to have a conversation with a son or a daughter or a Texas citizen whose grandmother didn't have electricity in August when it was 107 degrees [Fahrenheit] in Dallas, Texas, because we had brownouts and or blackouts because we didn't have the capacity," he said.

Capacity and reliability concerns are the reason an all-of-the above approach to energy is needed, Perry said. Among other resources to get a plug from the energy secretary were LNG, which he said would be a "very, very important part" of efforts to bring cleaner air to Europe, and nuclear power, which he praised for its zero emissions profile.

Perry used interruptions by protesters during his talk as a jumping off point to praise fossil fuels, and suggesting it would take fossil fuels to push power to villages in Africa and stop people from dying there.

"A young girl told me to my face that one of the reasons that electricity is so important to me is not only because I'm not going to have to try to read by the light of a fire and have those fumes literally killing people, but also from the standpoint of sexual assault," said Perry, who recently returned from a trip to Africa. "When the lights are on, when you have light, it shines the righteousness, if you will, on those type of acts."

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune called for Perry to resign in response to that last remark. "It was already clear that Rick Perry is unfit to lead the Department of Energy, but to suggest that fossil fuel development will decrease sexual assault is not only blatantly untrue, it is an inexcusable attempt to minimize a serious and pervasive issue," he said.

--Maya Weber,
--Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh,