Grid study omits climate change from final version

Source: Umair Irfan, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, August 25, 2017

The Department of Energy removed the words “climate change” from the final version of the agency’s long-awaited study on electric grid stability.

The only reference to rising average temperatures was in the context of rolling back environmental rules under Executive Order 13783.

“The Order called for a rescission of certain energy and climate related policies, rescinded specific reports, and ordered the review of key environmental regulations,” according to the report. “While DOE is not the main agency tasked in the Order, it should continue to prioritize energy dominance and implementing the Executive Order broadly and quickly.”

Energy Secretary Rick Perry commissioned the report to study threats to electric grid reliability from the loss of baseload power plants, namely coal and nuclear generators, with an eye toward harm from renewable energy incentives.

Critics said the study was aimed at undermining tax credits for wind and solar power while building a case to prop up financially uncompetitive coal and nuclear plants.

The report does acknowledge extreme weather events as a danger to grid reliability, but doesn’t note any long-term trends. “Causes of failure can include extreme weather events and cyber or physical attacks on grid infrastructure,” according to the study.

However, buried in the paper’s references are some nods to the effects of climate change, like a news article noting that the increasing frequency and duration of heat waves due to climate change is putting a strain on nuclear reactors.

The final version of the report stands in stark contrast to a draft leaked last month, which pointed to climate change as a major threat to energy infrastructure reliability.

“Electricity outages disproportionately stem from disruptions on the distribution system (over 90 percent of electric power interruptions), both in terms of the duration and frequency of outages; this is largely due to weather-related events,” the draft version said.

“Events with severe consequences are becoming more frequent and intense, due to climate change, and have been the principal contributors to an observed increase in the frequency and duration of power outages in the United States,” it adds.

Alison Silverstein, an energy consultant who was brought on to put the report together and assembled the draft, said that she was in the dark about the report’s conclusions before the final release of the report last night.

“I don’t know what that says nor what conclusions and policy recommendations it draws,” she said in an email.

She cautioned that concerns about the report and its impacts might be overblown. “I think there’s been an excess of hysteria,” she said.

After seeing the study, Silverstein had a favorable take. “Overall, I think the report turned out to be thorough, balanced and objective and doesn’t over-dramatize or favor any specific resource, sector or position,” she wrote in the email.

Regarding the omission of “climate change,” she said that “the term probably didn’t show up much because it didn’t require much discussion of climate change to address the Secretary’s questions. With that said — yes, I do recognize that the contents of this report have implications for climate change policy conversations going forward.”

Mark Jacobson, a researcher at Stanford University who studies energy solutions to climate change, said the new study overlooks other findings that the electrical grid can reliably integrate vast amounts of renewable energy, up to 100 percent.

“One thing that stood out is that a key conclusion is, ‘A continual comprehensive regional and national review is needed to determine how a portfolio of domestic energy resources can be developed to ensure grid reliability and resilience,’ yet the authors are completely unaware of a whole body of literature on how to ensure grid reliability with large penetrations of clean, renewable electricity,” he wrote in an email.

DOE has made climate change a central concern in past assessments. In 2013, the agency put out a comprehensive report on climate change threats to the U.S. energy sector.

“Increasing temperatures, decreasing water availability, more intense storm events, and sea level rise will each independently, and in some cases in combination, affect the ability of the United States to produce and transmit electricity from fossil, nuclear, and existing and emerging renewable energy sources,” according to the 2013 study.