Back in April, Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered a study to back up his claims that solar and wind power were undermining the U.S. electric grid’s reliability.
That’s why it was a surprise when Bloomberg reported Friday that a July draft leaked to them concluded essentially the opposite: “The power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards.”
The leaked draft was completed by Department of Energy (DOE) career staff, however, and thus subject to change by Perry and his team of Trump appointees. So the big question is whether the Trump administration will erase those findings in the final draft, the way they appear to be erasing so many other inconvenient truths.
Indeed, a DOE spokeswoman told Bloomberg that “those statements as written are not in the current draft.” The report clarifies that the spokeswoman “wouldn’t say they are incorrect, just the draft is ‘constantly evolving.’”
“Devolving” might be a better word for it. After all, Perry has been spouting so many indefensible attacks on renewable energy since becoming secretary, the study’s result seemed foreordained from the outset, leading to headlines like, “Electric grid study ordered by U.S. Energy chief to boost coal.”
Perry suggested in late April that renewables might actually be a threat to “national security” because they supposedly undermine baseload (24-7) power sources like coal and nuclear — though there are no facts to support this.
And just a few weeks ago, Perry told a major energy conference that his grid study was “a critical review of regulatory burdens placed by the previous administration on baseload generators.” He claimed that “over the last several years, grid experts have expressed concern about the erosion of critical baseload resources.”
Ironically, the very next speaker, Colette Honorable, a commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), disputed Perry. “I have seen no problems with reliability,” she said. “Bring on more renewables.”
The draft report commissioned by Perry similarly concludes that “grid operators are using technologies, standards and practices to assure that they can continue operating the grid reliably,” according to Bloomberg. The draft notes that factors like environmental regulations and renewable energy subsidies “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.”
Political appointees at DOE and the White House can and do make changes in reports from the career staff. But in five years as a DOE political appointee in the 1990s, I’m not sure I ever saw the secretary’s office actually reverse the findings of a study they had ordered. I imagine this draft was leaked to make any such reversal politically harder.
We will find out soon enough if team Trump erases yet more findings contradictory to their ideology, since the final version of the already overdue study is expected to be released as early as next week.