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Energy Secretary makes 1st Tri-City area stop, says it’s a chance to learn

In this June 6, 2017, photo, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry speaks during the carbon capture, utilization and storage event, on the sidelines of the clean energy conference held at the China National Convention Center in Beijing. (Andy Wong / Associated Press)
By Sara Schilling Tri-City Herald

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s visit to the Mid-Columbia is “an edification” – the chance to see firsthand the work being done at places like the Hanford nuclear reservation and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, he said Monday.

“I’m focused on trying to make as many national labs as I can, to understand in even broader context what the Department of Energy does on a daily basis,” Perry said during the first public stop of his local whirlwind tour.

His trip fulfills a confirmation promise to visit Hanford. That’s on the agenda for Tuesday, along with a trip to PNNL in Richland.

Before those stops, Perry visited McNary Lock and Dam near Umatilla, touring the facility with U.S. Reps. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., and Greg Walden, R-Ore.

He called McNary “a fascinating facility” that’s “a fascinating part of America’s story.”

“It’s a lot more complex than it was in 1954 (when the dam opened). We have a lot more challenges, whether it’s on the environmental side, whether it’s on the electrical grid side, whether it’s making sure that we have the security both of the grid and otherwise,” he told reporters Monday evening.

But, Perry said, “with the men and women who work here, I’m very confident (in) the work that’s being done, the ability to manage this extraordinary resource.”

The Texan, who served for 14 years as the state’s governor, acknowledged that hydro power is “not one of (Texas’) blessings” – and that’s part of why he wanted to see McNary.

“Hydro is going to continue to play a very important role,” he said. “Making sure that it has the support, making sure people like me, who don’t have a deep knowledge of hydro, come here, understand it, have a relationship with the members of Congress that do understand this” is important to a national energy strategy.

“And, actually, not just a national energy strategy, but I will suggest to you a North American energy strategy,” he said, adding that America will be at the epicenter of “managing all that together and being able to have the security of reliable, affordable energy for the future of the world.”

Asked about the Trump administration’s controversial proposal to privatize the Bonneville Power Administration’s transmission system, Perry said that, “I’m a big believer that there are good conversations to have. There should be no government program that is not willing to stand up and say, ‘Well, let’s have a conversation about, is there a more efficient way to operate us, is there a better value for America?’”

That said, “It’s worked pretty well for a long time. My bet is that it’s probably going to continue to work in the form that it is for a good bit in the future,” he said.

Perry said he looks forward to time at PNNL and to visiting Hanford.

“There’s extraordinary history here. Just as this dam behind us is an example of American ingenuity and innovation, Hanford is, too,” Perry said.

“Hanford has some byproducts that 65 years ago we might not have known were going to be there. It’s our responsibility in this generation to make sure that the next generation knows that everything was done as practically, as economically, as safely as we could to make sure their future is bright.”