DOE will make contentious grid study public

Source: Hannah Northey and Christa Marshall, E&E News report • Posted: Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Energy Department plans to make public a contentious internal study on the U.S. electrical grid that has riled up renewable groups and Democrats who have questioned its underlying intent.

Although DOE has drawn attention for not reaching out to other grid overseers and experts in conducting the study, agency spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said in an email that the department is “committed to conducting a thorough review — one that relies heavily on the research and institutional knowledge of the Department’s experts from all relevant program offices and National Laboratories.”

Hynes added, “Although this is an internal study, it is an important topic area and therefore the Department will be making it public once it is finished.”

The study, announced in an April 14 memo from Energy Secretary Rick Perry to Chief of Staff Brian McCormack, is taking a broad look at grid reliability, baseload power and subsidies.

Fossil fuel groups say the analysis is needed to investigate the impact of Obama-era rules. But critics say it appears to be an attack on renewables.

Earlier this week, renewable energy advocates urged DOE to meet with them prior to the study’s release and make the process open and transparent.

They suggested the study is based on a “faulty premise” that renewables are responsible for the retirement of coal and nuclear power plants (Greenwire, May 16).

The National Mining Association pushed back today in a statement, saying in an email that Perry’s study is “fully justified.”

Spokesman Luke Popovich said, “Contrary to the Obama era narrative reprised by the renewable industry, … some very reputable sources have documented the impact that regulations have had on coal and, indirectly, on grid reliability.”

In a Washington Examiner op-ed, Popovich cited federal and university data showing the impact of federal regulations such as the 2012 Mercury and Air Toxics Standards in retiring coal plants. Federal subsidies and net-metering policies have sheltered renewables from market competition, he said.

“Without these subsidies, wind and solar would have to compete in the same Game of Thrones-style energy market as ‘less economic’ sources of electricity,” Popovich said.

When asked about NMA’s comments, American Council on Renewable Energy spokesman Gil Jenkins pointed to studies from four groups yesterday showing that renewable power enhances the grid rather than harms it.

Agencies across the Trump administration are making clear their friendlier position on coal. Interior Department and U.S. EPA communications have touted the fuel’s benefits.

And an infographic posted recently to the DOE Office of Fossil Energy website states that “using coal cleanly” enhances national energy security and “can create new jobs and grow economy.”

In a statement, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director Mary Anne Hitt said, “No one voted to turn the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency into cheerleaders for the fossil fuel industry that’s making families sick all over the country and the world.”

Popovich said, “It’s reassuring to see the federal government is no longer dedicated to pleasing Sierra Club lawyers at the expense of the hundreds of thousands of working Americans supported by the world’s largest coal supply.”

Reporter Dylan Brown contributed.