Climate change denial underpins GOP ‘confusion’ over energy — Waxman

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, May 10, 2013

Ranking House Energy and Commerce Democrat Henry Waxman today said a series of House GOP hearings on grid reliability reflect the deep “confusion” inside the Republican Party over climate change and represent a smoke screen for attacking renewables.

Republicans on the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, the Californian said, can’t seem to decide whether they like cheap gas or see it as a threat to the coal industry. They also seem unsure whether they should celebrate the country’s reduced carbon emissions or avoid the issue altogether, Waxman said.

“This confusion is not surprising because the subcommittee still hasn’t examined why this transition in our energy sector must occur,” he said. “Climate change is the biggest energy challenges we face as a country.”

Waxman accused the subcommittee’s Republican majority of requesting today’s hearing on grid reliability — and holding two prior hearings on the same issue — as a veiled attempt to attack tax incentives for wind and solar generation.

Past House hearings on grid reliability, however, have touched on serious issues surrounding grid reliability. Federal regulators at the subcommittee’s hearing in March, for example, warned that a shortage of pipeline infrastructure in the Northeast has left the gas-reliant region vulnerable to reliability problems (E&E Daily, March 20). Grid operators are also trying to ensure the gas and electric markets are aligned and that an increasing amount of renewables can be safely integrated into the grid.

But Dan Weiss, a senior fellow and director of climate strategy at the Center for American Progress who testified at the hearing, said climate change has to be part of the discussion. “Talking about reliability and the electricity system without addressing climate change is like talking about education without exploring the role of teachers,” he said. “It’s the issue in the room at the majority doesn’t want to address.”

House Republicans were quick to combat Waxman’s criticism.

Rep. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) acknowledged Waxman’s call for a focus on climate change but said the subpanel should be very clear about the benefits of coal, gas and other fossil fuels. “We should have a hearing sometime about what fossil fuels are still doing for us, but that’s not what we’re here for today,” he said.

A debate over the fate of production tax credits for wind also played out along party lines.

Republicans repeatedly turned to Jonathan Lesser, an analyst with Continental Economics Inc. who said PTCs for wind are skewing the market and threatening to increase electricity costs for consumers. Lesser also said it is not clear why the wind industry still needs financial assistance.

Under questioning from subpanel Chairman Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), Lesser said that PTCs for wind are discouraging investment into power generation and that grid operators are being forced to pay for reserve power to make up for wind that stops blowing or when the sun isn’t shining.

“Grid operators can handle wind … the lights are on in here,” Lesser said. “But those costs will keep increasing and it will become more difficult to maintain a reliable system.”

But Robert Gramlich, the American Wind Energy Association’s interim CEO, said Lesser failed to mention that grid operators are already incorporating more wind, and that outages of conventional power plants — not turbines — add more uncertainty into the system.

“Grid operators that use efficient practices have found that they can reliably add large amounts of wind energy with virtually zero need for backup power beyond what is already needed,” he said. “Even if additional backup is needed, it is much cheaper to accommodate the slow and predictable variations in wind output than the instantaneous loss of conventional power plants that can occur at any time.”