Secretary Moniz Is Confident The U.S. Can Achieve Energy Independence Rachel Martin talks to outgoing energy secretary Ernest Moniz about the U.S. energy picture as renewables take a larger share of the electric power mix, and vulnerabilities in the grid emerge.

Secretary Moniz Is Confident The U.S. Can Achieve Energy Independence

Secretary Moniz Is Confident The U.S. Can Achieve Energy Independence

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Rachel Martin talks to outgoing energy secretary Ernest Moniz about the U.S. energy picture as renewables take a larger share of the electric power mix, and vulnerabilities in the grid emerge.


Energy independence, climate change, the security of America's electrical grid - the forces that shape our power supply are in flux. Of course, the fuels that power the grid have gotten significantly cleaner these past eight years. And today, the Obama administration's Energy Department releases its final assessment of the country's energy picture and where they'd like to see it go. My co-host Rachel Martin sat down this week with outgoing Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

RACHEL MARTIN, BYLINE: Thank you so much for coming in.

ERNEST MONIZ: Thank you, Rachel.

MARTIN: I will start with a big question. How would you grade America's energy independence at this moment?

MONIZ: I would say very well. Certainly, we are now the largest producer of natural gas and oil, for example. But we also have seen tremendous growth in our renewables. In fact, things like wind, solar, etc., have now surpassed hydro. Natural gas has surpassed coal. These are tremendous shifts in this electricity system.

However, I do want to caution - we are not at the point where we produce as much energy as we use, so we still do have some oil imports. But we may reach that point in the next decade some time.

MARTIN: Does nuclear power have a place in this energy mix?

MONIZ: We believe it's very important to maintain nuclear power, as it is, today, clearly our biggest zero-carbon source of electricity. So we believe both that we need to help sustain the current plants, and secondly, we are developing next-generation technologies. And let's face it - the long-term carbon challenge, where we go to deep decarbonization, let's say by mid-century, we need, essentially, every arrow in the quiver. And I think nuclear has to stay on the table.

MARTIN: You say that renewables have thrived over the past few years. Are they competing on equal footing now with fossil fuels in the open marketplace? Or are there still federal subsidies that have been involved in boosting them?

MONIZ: Well, there are still some incentives today for producing wind and solar. However, in many situations, without subsidy, we are seeing straight-up competitiveness. And the costs of the renewables are dropping very dramatically. It's not renewable production but, say, LED lighting. We're talking about a 94 percent drop in costs since 2008. That's why we say it's not about a future revolution. We are in the revolution right now in energy technology.

MARTIN: Has that change happened fast enough to mitigate the risks of climate change?

MONIZ: Well, I think a combination of the deployment of renewables, for example, and other things, including natural gas, has displaced so much coal. This last year is the first year - in history - when natural gas was the largest supplier of electricity in the country. And coal has come down substantially. And of course, that has lowered carbon emissions.

So it's really the combination of those two things plus a lot of progress on the demand side on energy efficiency. Now, you bring all those together, and we believe that we are on track for meeting the commitments made in the Paris accord.

MARTIN: Although Donald Trump very well could just tear that agreement up, or America's part.

MONIZ: But I'm saying is that the world is clearly moving to low carbon. There is, developing, a multi-trillion-dollar market in clean energy technologies globally. And we surely want to be part of that.

MARTIN: You do talk a lot about energy security in this report. And that means not just energy independence but the physical security of energy infrastructure that could be vulnerable to attacks in this day and age. Do you think the federal government has done a sufficient job of staying ahead of security threats?

MONIZ: Well, I think we're working very, very hard. And I think we're doing a pretty good job. One thing is by the absence of a major incident, for example, in the cyberworld. You say physical, but I would say physical and cyber. In fact, we should note that in the - for the energy infrastructure, we have many, I would say, evolving threats. But there's no question about it, they are increasing. And the energy infrastructure, from my perspective - regrettably - is one of the major targets.

We have also seen direct physical attacks on the electricity system. There was a famous one a few years ago in California where some people with automatic rifles basically took out some transformers and could have created an incredible Silicon Valley blackout. We were a bit lucky, frankly, in that.

MARTIN: Donald Trump has tapped Rick Perry to be your successor, to lead the Department of Energy. He's someone who, at one point, suggested doing away with the department altogether. What will it mean for the priorities you've outlined in this report to hand your department over to this next administration?

MONIZ: Well, of course, we'll see what the policies are. It's not for me to predict that. But what I will predict is that Governor Perry, presuming he is confirmed - that he would come in and see an incredible place that is fundamentally one of the most powerful science and technology organizations anywhere - applying science and technology to our energy problems, being a backbone of basic research, sustaining the nuclear deterrent, cleaning up nuclear materials that could be in the wrong hands globally - a tremendous diversity of missions all based upon the application of science and technology.

So I think, again, anyone coming in to the department is going to recognize that and recognize the major responsibility to sustain that.

MARTIN: Last question - I know it's somewhat blasphemous to ask a scientist how he is feeling, but I will do so anyway. As you reflect on your tenure at the Department of Energy, how are you feeling about America's energy independence, our ability to secure our energy future and the battle against climate change?

MONIZ: I think we are in an extraordinarily well-placed position. Again, I think we...

MARTIN: You are feeling good. You are feeling optimistic. Can I put that word in your mouth?

MONIZ: Yes, you may indeed. I will even repeat it. I feel optimistic. Of course - I often say I'm a physicist, and therefore, I am inherently optimistic. But what I see is that we have the solutions. And we will continue to develop the solutions for this low-carbon trajectory, supporting our economy, supporting our environment and supporting our security simultaneously.

MARTIN: Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, thank you so much for your time.

MONIZ: Thank you, Rachel.


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