Grassley slams Perry’s grid study as anti-wind

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, May 18, 2017

Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley (R), one of the Senate’s most ardent supporters of wind power, openly challenged the value of a forthcoming Energy Department analysis on grid reliability, calling it “a hastily developed study” that “appears geared to undermine the wind energy industry.”

In a letter sent yesterday to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Grassley said he was concerned that the upcoming report, due in mid-June, “will not be viewed as credible, relevant or worthy of valuable taxpayer resources,” adding that a similar study completed by the Obama administration took two years to complete.

Grassley asked Perry to answer five questions about the study process, including what contractors and sources DOE would rely on to draw its findings, how much the study will cost, and whether the report would be issued in draft form where it could be subject to broader review and comment.

Perry ordered the study last month, saying he shared concerns raised by some in the electricity sector that baseload power plants, especially coal and nuclear plants, were at risk of being underutilized due to a surge in renewable energy flowing onto the grid from wind farms and solar arrays.

In an April 14 memo to DOE Chief of Staff Brian McCormack, Perry said experts are increasingly concerned about the “diminishing diversity of our nation’s electric generation mix and what that could mean for baseload power and grid resilience.”

Renewable energy advocates quickly seized on whether Perry, by ordering the study, was bidding for the fossil and nuclear power sectors, some of whose members fear their plants could become stranded assets if wind and solar achieve a much higher level of grid penetration over the coming years.

President Trump has also pledged to revive the struggling U.S. coal industry, in part by rolling back regulations on coal-fired power plant emissions and abandoning much of the Obama administration’s climate change agenda, which called for a major expansion of wind, solar and other carbon-free electricity.

More recently, clean energy advocates have argued that the Perry-commissioned study could lay the policy groundwork for a congressional repeal of federal subsidies for wind and solar power (Greenwire, May 9).

Those supports, particularly the production tax credit for wind energy and the investment tax credit for solar power, have stimulated billions of dollars of investment in renewable energy projects since the mid-2000s.

Fossil fuel industry groups, such as the National Mining Association, have said the study is “very justified,” adding that “reputable sources have documented the impact that regulations have had on coal and, indirectly, on grid reliability” (E&E News PM, May 17).

Yet lawmakers from both sides of the aisle, including senior GOP members like Grassley, have been stalwart supporters of the tax credits, pointing to the huge economic windfalls states like Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas have seen with the surge in wind energy development.

In his letter to Perry, Grassley pointed to Iowa’s success with wind power, noting that more than half of all electricity produced in the state comes from wind turbines, a figure that is projected to rise to 90 percent over the coming years. “Not only is Iowa’s wind resource reliable, it’s also affordable,” Grassley said.

Grassley also pointed to Perry’s tenure as Texas governor, during which he oversaw one of the largest wind energy booms in history, adding, “Surely you have an appreciation for the enormous economic contributions wind energy is already providing in many parts of the country.”

Perry has not responded to much of the criticism aimed at the internal study. But yesterday, a DOE spokeswomen 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.”

The study is being headed by economist Travis Fisher, who previously worked for the conservative Institute for Energy Research, where he argued that federal policies supporting renewable energy were undermining grid reliability due to their intermittency and the need to cycle traditional baseload power plants to accommodate wind and solar.