Industry groups decry grid study’s ‘faulty premise’

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Department of Energy is relying on a “faulty premise” in conducting a study about grid reliability and subsidies, four industry groups told Energy Secretary Rick Perry today.

The American Council on Renewable Energy, the American Wind Energy Association, the Solar Energy Industries Association and Advanced Energy Economy say they are disappointed that DOE is choosing to not make its grid review “public and open” to industry input. It’s not the case that the loss of coal and nuclear generation will lead to declining grid reliability, they said.

“We are concerned that the scope of the report appears to be based on a faulty premise — a premise contrary to the experience in your home state of Texas — that renewable generation is responsible for the retirement of coal and nuclear generation resources, and that the loss of those resources will lead to declining reliability of the grid,” the groups wrote in the letter to the former Texas governor.

The 60-day grid study, announced in an April 14 memo from Perry to Chief of Staff Brian McCormack, was viewed by many as a possible attack on existing federal renewable tax credits. The memo expressed concerns about the “diminishing diversity” of the nation’s electricity generation mix, and blamed that partly on coal regulations.

The process is being led by DOE appointee Travis Fisher, who has questioned the benefits of renewable subsidies in the past (Greenwire, April 19). DOE did not respond to a request for comment.

At a press event this morning, renewable leaders pointed to data showing that cheap natural gas, higher fossil fuel prices and stagnant load growth are helping drive coal plant retirements, not higher levels of renewables.

“It’s clearly a story of gas versus coal,” said Michael Goggin, AWEA’s senior research director. He presented a map showing that coal retirements dominate the East, while renewable growth is more centered in the Midwest and West.

There have been many cases, such as the polar vortex of 2014, when wind and solar power helped keep the lights on when fossil fuel generation ran into trouble, he said.

Christopher Mansour, SEIA’s vice president of federal affairs, said there were “great expectations” that existing tax credits — currently expected to phase down in increments — would stay in place for now, considering Republican support for the 2015 budget deal that extended support for wind and solar.

Each of the four organizations conducted separate analyses of the effect of renewables and advanced technologies on the grid showing that those resources save consumers money and enhance reliability, rather than harm it.

The Solar Energy Industries Association, for example, released a report citing a National Renewable Energy Laboratory report last year finding that wind and solar could supply 30 percent of the annual power for the nation’s Eastern grid without reliability concerns (Greenwire, Aug. 31, 2016).

The AWEA report also finds that much higher levels of wind are possible. And the AEE analysis cites grid studies showing high grid stability with more renewables.

ACORE released a “fact check” paper highlighting that wind and solar jobs are growing much faster than the rest of the economy.

The same groups sent Perry a letter last month requesting that the DOE study be open and transparent and allow public comments from industries before being finalized. They said they did not receive a response.

At the time, DOE spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes told Axios that Perry looked forward to input from “all parties” after completion of the study.

The letter is one of many sent to Perry in the past week. On Friday, other renewable industries providing baseload power told DOE that they have not benefited from tax credits and state renewable policies in the same way as wind and solar (Greenwire, May 15).