Fossil fuel promoter settles into renewable energy office

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, July 12, 2017

A recent Energy Department political hire is a well-known critic of renewable energy and former spokesman for Fueling U.S. Forward, a campaign promoting fossil fuels funded by Koch Industries Inc.

Alex Fitzsimmons is now a senior adviser in DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, according to the department’s internal registry.

He was the public face of Fueling U.S. Forward, a nonprofit Koch launched last year to promote fossil fuels, primarily to low-income and minority groups (Climatewire, Sept. 6, 2016).

Charles Drevna, the former president of American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and a senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research, said in an interview last year the effort was aimed at reclaiming the energy narrative from environmentalists who argued fossil resources should be kept in the ground.

Fitzsimmons saw the campaign grow and most recently released a video, “Dirty Secrets of Electric Cars.”

A graduate of George Washington University, Fitzsimmons served as the policy director for the Institute for Energy Research from 2013 to 2016, marking the third IER veteran to join the Trump administration’s DOE. Other alumni include Travis Fisher and Dan Simmons, both serving senior roles at the department. And Tom Pyle, president of the American Energy Alliance, IER’s advocacy arm, oversaw President Trump’s transition for DOE.

DOE and Fitzsimmons didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The IER alumni are significant given DOE is facing steep budget cuts, possible layoffs and reorganization and is conducting a review of baseload power and energy subsidies. Fisher is overseeing the review, which is expected to be released soon.

A leaked memo from Energy Secretary Rick Perry said “regulatory burdens” from previous administrations were designed to decrease coal-fired generation.

“Such policies have destroyed jobs and economic growth, and they threaten to undercut the performance well into the future,” Perry wrote (E&E News PM, June 21).

Fitzsimmons has criticized wind as an unreliable energy source that deserves little investment and questioned the need for tax incentives to promote its development.

In 2013, Fitzsimmons and Fisher co-wrote an analysis that cast the wind production tax credit as a “lavish subsidy” that distorts power markets and drains government coffers.

“The PTC is a massive waste of taxpayer dollars. Perhaps worse, the PTC distorts energy markets by allowing wind producers to actually pay the grid to take their electricity so they can continue to collect federal largesse,” they wrote. “This harms reliable energy sources like natural gas that Americans depend on keep the lights on. It is long past time for Congress to let the PTC permanently expire.”

In a 2014 BBC interview, Fitzsimmons said wind is “scarce, expensive, unreliable” technology that creates transmission challenges in countries like China and has done little to lower emissions when compared with natural gas.

“Wind was not designed for the grid,” he said. “Wind energy only works about 30 percent of the time on average. That’s no way to run a newsroom, and I don’t think it’s any way to run a country, either.”

Maf Smith, the deputy chief executive of trade body RenewableUK, who also appeared on the segment, clashed with Fitzsimmons, calling wind generation a proven technology that’s been around for decades and provides power more than 80 percent of the time, adding that transmission is a challenge for all power sources.

Fitzsimmons went on to call wind a “nice niche market” for China but said the power source pales in comparison to coal that’s affordable and abundant.

“Coal is pretty much everything wind isn’t,” he said.