Energy Secretary Rick Perry is cooking up a case to stifle further federal support of renewable wind and solar energy. He’s ordered a dubiously sourced staff study that is aimed to paint renewables as an unreliable source for the nation’s electric grid.
The study, due June 23, seeks to determine whether federal tax and subsidy policies favoring renewable energy have burdened “baseload” coal-fired generation, putting power grid reliability at risk. It is being spearheaded by Energy Department political appointee Travis Fisher, who’s associated with a Washington policy group that opposes almost any government aid for renewable energy.
Fisher wrote a 2015 report for the Institute for Energy Research that called clean energy policies “the single greatest emerging threat” to the nation’s electric power grid, and a greater threat to electric reliability than cyber attacks, terrorism or extreme weather.
The Institute for Energy Research and its advocacy arm, the American Energy Alliance, has been the “influential force in shaping Donald Trump’s plans to dismantle Obama administration climate initiatives,’’ according to Bloomberg News.
Headed by Thomas Pyle, a former director of federal affairs for Koch Industries, IER has already delivered its fossil fuel industry wish list to the Trump administration. It’s part of the “America First Energy Plan” that was posted on the White House website on Jan. 20.
As a blueprint for quashing renewable energy research and development, Perry’s call for the study immediately signaled alarm. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) slammed the study as “anti-wind.” University of Texas’ Energy Institute experts called the question of whether renewables are killing coal “would be similar to asking in the late 1990s whether email was killing fax machines and snail mail.’’
A letter from Advanced Energy Economy, American Wind Energy Association and Solar Energy Industries Association disputed the administration’s premise: “Policies supporting the deployment of these technologies are not playing an important role in the decline of coal and nuclear plants. Numerous studies have conclusively demonstrated that low natural gas prices and stagnant load growth are the principal factors behind the retirements in coal and nuclear plants.’’
Energy Department officials last week sought to reassure members of its electricity policy advisory panel that a grid reliability study “is gathering a range of viewpoints from experts at DOE’s national laboratories,” reported E&E News, a Washington new organization that covers energy issues.