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Energy Secretary Rick Perry, right, talks with Sen. Joe Manchin, left, and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, outside the coal-burning Longview Power Plant in Maidsville, WV. Photo: AP / Michael Virtanen

The Energy Department's highly anticipated report on America's electricity grid is out, and our biggest takeaway is that it affirms generally accepted knowledge in the energy industry — cheap natural gas has been the primary factor causing coal and nuclear power plants to shut down over the last several years.

It also contradicts comments Energy Secretary Rick Perry has made suggesting federal subsidies for wind and solar help shut down coal and nuclear plants.

Bottom line: The report's findings, though not newsy in and of themselves, are notable because they show the Trump administration adhering to objective data despite rhetoric suggesting it might come to more politically driven results criticizing renewable energy.

Perry has read the study and is on board with its conclusions, an Energy Department official said: "You can talk about his rhetoric, but he told us he was happy with the report," the official said.

Here are the highlights, combed from the study itself and conversations with Energy Department officials:

  • The other factors beyond natural gas in shutting down a wave of coal and nuclear plants, in the order listed in the report: Stagnant electricity growth, environmental regulations and the rise of intermittent wind and solar resources.
  • The report says that the growth of renewable energy on the grid hasn't created any alarming problems, but that doesn't mean one can assume it won't in the future with greater penetration of renewables, so increased attention is needed.
  • The study doesn't recommend the Energy Department intervene in state energy mandates, an idea Perry floated a few months ago. The authors didn't seek to answer that question nor does Perry have any intention of usurping states' rights, an Energy Department official said.
  • One agency official expressed concern about how natural-gas plants don't have fuel on site, like coal and nuclear do, in case of emergency situations.
  • To the small extent climate change was part of the study's formation, the authors stressed that preserving America's existing fleet of nuclear power plants, which emit no carbon, was essential.

Yes, but: In a letter about the report also released Wednesday, Perry emphasized the factors of environmental regulations and subsidies and didn't mention natural gas, which by his own report's conclusions, is the biggest driving influence. "It is apparent that in today's competitive markets certain regulations and subsidies are having a large impact on the functioning of markets, and thereby challenging our power generation mix."

Between the lines: Emphasizing how natural gas is the driving influence changing the power grid doesn't jive with the Trump administration's positions bolstering natural gas. Omitting it in the rhetoric related to the report but noting it in the report itself shows the delicate balance the Energy Department is striking on the issue.

The report's recommendations are not as sweeping as some speculated, in an implicit nod to the fact a lot of what would need to happen to really change the power grid is not in the Energy Department's authority (it's largely Congress). The highlights:

  • The report encourages the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent government agency that reviews energy infrastructure, to speed up its efforts working with grid operators on energy pricing.
  • The report encourages the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, another independent agency that regulates the nuclear industry, to not "unnecessarily" add to the operating costs of nuclear plants.
  • The report encourages the Environmental Protection Agency to allow coal plants to improve efficiency without triggering new permitting requirements.

Go deeper

5 hours ago - World

Defense Sec. Austin stresses U.S. commitment to Israel's security amid growing Iran tensions

Issei Kato/Reuters/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin arrived for his first visit in Jerusalem amid nuclear talks in Vienna and growing tensions between Israel and Iran.

Why it matters: Austin met his counterpart Benny Gantz and will meet later with Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss Iran and regional security issues.

"I was horrified": Leaders respond to footage of Black and Latino Army officer threatened at traffic stop

An Army officer is suing two Virginia police officers after he said they drew their guns and pepper-sprayed him during a traffic stop in December.

Why it matters: Footage of the incident has drawn widespread criticism from leaders and groups in the state. Caron Nazario, who is Black and Latino, is heard saying “I’m honestly afraid to get out," to which a police officer responds “Yeah, you should be," in a video from a body-worn camera.

Chauvin trial leaves cities, activists across America on edge

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The impact of the Derek Chauvin trial is reverberating far beyond the walls of the downtown Minneapolis courtroom.

The state of play: With the trial set to enter its third week, activists across America are watching the proceedings unfold with heavy skepticism that what they perceive as justice will be served.