Renewable energy groups rebut ‘faulty premise’ of Rick Perry’s electric grid study

Organizations submit materials to help DOE prepare an accurate study.

Wind turbines dot the landscape near Steele City, Nebraska. CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik
Wind turbines dot the landscape near Steele City, Nebraska. CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik

The U.S. renewable energy industry wants to make sure Energy Secretary Rick Perry hears its concerns before his agency releases a final report on the state of the nation’s electric grid.

Perry ordered Department of Energy staff to study whether government support for renewable energy resources are threatening the reliability of the nation’s power grid and contributing to the closure of coal-fired and nuclear power plants. Perry gave his staff 60 days from the issuance of an April 14 memo to complete the study.

With less than a month remaining to complete the study, renewable energy officials are worried the DOE study could be based on the “faulty premise” that government incentives are responsible for the early retirement of coal and nuclear generation units.

Even though the department has not requested comment, renewable industry groups submitted materials on Tuesday that they hope will guide the DOE as it prepares the study. The materials included a study prepared by Advanced Energy Economy Institute that found greater use of renewable energy, natural gas, and energy management sources is posing no threat to the nation’s electric reliability. In fact, a move toward greater use of renewables and natural gas is saving consumers money, according to the analysis.

The groups — Advanced Energy Economy, American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), American Wind Energy Association, and Solar Energy Industries Association — expressed “disappointment” that they had received no response to an April 28 letter requesting an “open, transparent process with stakeholder input to inform” the 60-day study.

A government study that doesn’t incorporate public input or information from a variety of interests “can be used to justify things that are not accurate,” Arvin Ganesan, vice president for federal policy at Advanced Energy Economy, a national association of businesses that promotes clean energy, said at a news briefing on Tuesday.

In its study, the Advanced Energy Economy Institute noted over the past decade, the U.S. electricity generation mix has changed substantially. In 2007, coal accounted for nearly half of total electricity generation capacity. Today it makes up less than 30 percent. Natural gas supplanted coal as the largest source of electricity capacity in the nation for the first time last year. Renewables have also grown significantly in the last decade, with wind and solar capacity rising at a faster rate than natural gas, according to the study.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, speaking at a news conference in Los Alamos, New Mexico. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan
Energy Secretary Rick Perry, speaking at a news conference in Los Alamos, New Mexico. CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan

“We have a strong history of bipartisan support for renewable energy,” Todd Foley, senior vice president of policy and government relations at ACORE, said at Tuesday’s briefing. “If you look across the country, red and blue states, governors of all stripes, champion renewable energy. Especially if you look at the Midwest you can see the material contributions we’re making.” Republican governors of Iowa and Kansas, for example, have strongly supported the growth of wind energy in their states, he noted.

The production tax credit for wind energy and the investment tax credit for solar energy face a ramp-down process whereas the incentives available to other energy resources do not, Foley emphasized. Tax measures and subsidies that support fossil fuels and nuclear power “are permanent in the code,” he said, contending that tax reform discussions need to be held that will create equal tax treatment and subsidies for all energy resources.

DOE selected Travis Fisher, a political appointee, to lead the grid study. Fisher worked as an economist for the Institute for Energy Research for three years before joining DOE in March. In a letter to Perry, a group of Democratic senators questioned why Fisher, “a former official with the Koch Brothers-funded Institute for Energy Research” who has written and spoken extensively against renewable energy technologies, was chosen to lead the study.

“The notion that a 60-day review conducted by ideologues associated with a Koch Brothers-affiliated think tank should supplant research and analysis conducted by the world’s foremost scientists and engineers would be a grave disservice to American taxpayers,” the senators wrote.

ACORE launched a webpage that responds to claims made in Perry’s memo directing his staff to conduct the grid study. In the memo, Perry wrote that “grid experts have expressed concerns about the erosion of critical baseload resources.” In response, ACORE said modeling conducted by PJM Interconnection, the grid operator for the mid-Atlantic and a large portion of the Midwest, found that its system could accommodate 30 percent variable generation with no loss of reliability. Grid operator Southwest Power Pool found its system could reliably operate with wind generation comprising 60 percent of its generating capacity.

In their April 28 letter, the groups stressed that renewable energy resources have been “integrated smoothly” into the electric power system, including in Texas where wind energy capacity increased dramatically while Perry was the state’s governor.

Numerous studies have indicated that low natural gas prices and stagnant growth of electricity consumption “are the principal factors behind these retirements,” Ganesan said. The groups are concerned that the grid study “could set out to blame one type of electricity generation for the market loss of others.”