Sierra Club sues agency over grid study ‘secrecy’

Source: Hannah Northey, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Sierra Club today sued the Energy Department in hopes of discovering which outside groups and experts the agency met with as it drafted a highly anticipated study of grid reliability.

The group filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California Oakland Division today, arguing that DOE violated the Freedom of Information Act.

The Sierra Club filed a request with DOE on May 1 for “documents showing communications regarding the study between DOE officials and third-party groups, including those allied with traditional fossil fuel industries.” DOE had until May 30 to fulfill the request but failed to do so, according to the group’s complaint.

A spokeswoman for DOE said the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

“DOE is committed to being responsive to all FOIA requests and that is not different in this case,” Shaylyn Hynes said in an email.

The complaint revolves around a 60-day review Energy Secretary Rick Perry requested in April to determine whether “regulatory burdens” or incentives for renewables have triggered the premature closure of coal and nuclear plants, referred to as “baseload” units.

The review has repeatedly been delayed, and it’s not clear when the final product will be released.

A draft of the report that leaked to the press found that renewable energy does not pose a risk to reliability and that low demand and cheap gas are the main culprits behind plant closures.

The Sierra Club today reiterated its concerns that DOE under Perry is intent on producing a “biased” report, a move that could affect subsidies for fossil plants, barriers to renewable energy or protections that impose costs on fossil plants, according to the complaint.

“The secrecy around this grid study, coupled with the lack of input from stakeholders, have raised alarms for us, and we are concerned that Perry will seize this study and strip the science from it to justify not only curtailing clean energy’s growth, but also forcing electricity customers to prop up uneconomical fossil fuel plants,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement.