Perry disputes grid models, denies renewable regs pre-emption

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Energy Secretary Rick Perry told Senate lawmakers that his agency would not pre-empt state renewable portfolio standards and questioned models of high levels of wind and solar energy for the electric grid, according to documents obtained by E&E News and submitted to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

In questions for the record obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request, Perry pushed for everything from cutting the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to shifting DOE programs to “early stage” research.

The pre-emption issue came up at an April event in New York City, where Perry suggested his department could intervene in state energy planning deemed a threat to baseload coal and nuclear plants (Energywire, April 26).

But when pressed by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) about the issue, Perry wrote in the 82-page document, “there is no national renewable portfolio standard authority that could serve as a basis under which the department could preempt state renewable portfolio standards.”

Perry also highlighted shortcomings of models supporting the feasibility of high levels of renewables on the grid. Last year, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory concluded 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).

Perry praised that and similar studies as important building blocks but said they were not definitive.

“The studies, however, did not conclusively model the impact of high penetrations of variable renewable energy. For example, the study indicating the potential for 80 percent renewable generation showed modeling feasibility only if there were also grid changes equivalent to building over 40 new 1,000 megawatt transmission lines across the nation,” he wrote.

The answers were submitted in July, before the release of DOE’s grid study analyzing factors affecting baseload power. That study concluded that natural gas was a chief driver of recent coal plant retirements. While Perry has made similar comments before on many topics, his answers provide more detail about the department’s thinking on budget planning and regulations.

For example, Perry was pressed on whether DOE would meet its commitments on efficiency standards, considered by environmentalists to be a chief federal tool in cutting energy use and emissions. Perry pledged that in fiscal 2018, DOE would fund all necessary steps to finalize legally required efficiency standards and test procedures and meet all statutory deadlines.

“DOE is committed to meeting its legislatively mandated deadlines for covered appliances and equipment,” Perry wrote.

Similarly, he pledged that DOE would “follow the law” in funding Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy projects, despite the president’s budget proposal to eliminate the program.

E&E News released portions of the answers last week in which Perry expanded on his views of the national labs and climate change (E&E Daily, Sept. 13). Perry said there currently is not a process in place for a “red team” exercise to review climate science and reiterated earlier comments that humans are driving climate change. Perry said there are other multiple factors driving warming temperatures, even though most scientists say humans are the main cause.

“As I have previously stated, the climate is changing and man is having an impact. There are several ‘control knobs’ which contribute to that change,” he wrote. DOE did not respond to a request for comment.

The answers were submitted after reports emerged that Russian hackers could disable the electric grid. Perry was asked how cybersecurity could be a top priority if President Trump’s budget proposes slashing cybersecurity programs.

Many of the proposed funding cuts resulted from completion of earlier activities, he said. DOE has put together a “multiyear plan” for cybersecurity that leverages “technical and financial resources from industry and government,” he added.

On Friday, Perry said recent storms show the importance of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, which Trump proposed cutting in half (see related story).

In his earlier responses, Perry said he supported a shrunken SPR.

“While the SPR continues to remain a vital national energy security asset, given increased reliance on and availability of domestic sources of production, the administration believes the U.S. can meet its energy security requirements with a smaller SPR,” Perry said.

Reporter Kevin Bogardus contributed.