On Friday evening, Bloomberg reported that it has seen an early draft of a study from the Department of Energy (DOE) concluding that renewable energy like wind and solar are not a threat to the reliability of the grid at present. The study was commissioned at the request of Energy Secretary Rick Perry.
If this draft is an accurate reflection of what would be in the final study, the results would be surprising. Perry sent his staffers a memo back in April which never mentioned renewable energy by name but called out “certain policies” that have contributed to the “erosion of critical baseload resources,” like coal, natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric power. The tone of the memo, which accused Obama-administration policies of destroying jobs and “[undercutting] the performance of the grid well into the future,” seemed to make the results of the baseload study a fait accompli, which would allow the DOE to set policies to support the coal industry.
Bloomberg says that the July-dated draft contradicts insinuations that renewable energy is the cause of coal plant closures. Instead, the draft blames the low price of natural gas for a market that has been giving less love to coal over the past few years. “Costly environmental regulations and subsidized renewable generation have exacerbated baseload power plant retirements,” Bloomberg quotes from the draft. “However, those factors played minor roles compared to the long-standing drop in electricity demand relative to previous expectation and years of low electric prices driven by high natural gas availability.”
The draft also apparently says that, even though baseload plants are being retired, that doesn’t translate to reliability issues. “The power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards,” the draft allegedly says. “Grid operators are using technologies, standards and practices to assure that they can continue operating the grid reliably.”
Bloomberg also obtained a separate draft outline from May, which blames aging infrastructure, a leveling-off of demand, and competitive energy markets for the bleak outlook for coal and nuclear generation.
Still, the text of the study, which was originally due out in late June, could change. Energy Department spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes told Bloomberg “Those statements as written are not in the current draft,” noting that it was “constantly evolving.”
The people that Perry tapped to work on the study could give a hint at the direction the final draft will take. One of the study’s authors is Travis Fisher, a former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) economist who has written extensively in opposition to tax credits for wind energy and in favor of repealing the Clean Power Plan as well as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. In contrast, the principle author is reportedly Alison Silverstein, who worked at FERC under George W. Bush and later went on to consult for the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. She has also worked on previous studies for the DOE on renewable energy integration.
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