Bogus rewrite of electricity grid report contradicts its own findings about renewable energy
The Department of Energy has released its 187-page Staff Report to the Secretary on Electricity Markets and Reliability. Ordered by DOE Secretary Rick Perry in April, it’s quite the piece of work. Not that it doesn’t have a valuable array of good data. It’s replete with helpful information and charts. But Its major conclusions don’t sync with reality.
It states that the closure of many power plants over the past few years has raised the risk that people won’t have access to reliable electricity; and it recommends that the government make permitting easier, quicker, and cheaper for “such as nuclear, hydro, coal, advanced generation technologies, and transmission.
These conclusions are generally as wrongheaded as they are wholly expected. As has been the response so far. David Koenig reports:
Jim Marston, an official with the Environmental Defense Fund, said the Energy Department was “twisting facts to reach a predetermined conclusion in favor of coal.” He said the agency ignored evidence from California that solar energy is reliable.
On the other side, the CEO of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity praised the report. Paul Bailey said, “One of the biggest challenges is how to preserve the nation’s coal fleet so it can continue supporting a reliable and resilient electricity grid.”
The most serrated assessment of the report was posted online Wednesday night by climate and energy activist and author Joe Romm. He was an acting assistant secretary at DOE during the Clinton administration and the founder of the ClimateProgress section of ThinkProgress, the news project of the policy and advocacy-oriented Center for American Progress.
Romm compared the final reworked report with drafts that had leaked their way into the public domain over the past few months. He found that some heavy editing produced the kind of upside-down results we’ve come to expect on just about every subject the Trump regime has been engaged in for the past seven months.
Back in April, Perry ordered a study to back up his claims that solar and wind power were undermining the U.S. electric grid’s reliability and forcing the premature retirement of baseload nuclear and coal plants. In July, Bloomberg obtained the draft report, written by Department of Energy staff, and revealed that they found essentially the opposite, as we reported.
As far as retirement of baseload plants, the draft report report found 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.”
A second bombshell conclusion in the draft report was that “the power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards.”
Both of those bombshells are nowhere to be found in the final version released late Wednesday. So what caused the baseload retirements? The final report concedes that “the biggest contributor… has been the advantaged economics of natural gas-fired generation,” and that “another factor… is low growth in electricity demand.”
But in place of the finding that subsidies for variable renewable energy (VRE) — basically wind and solar — had a minor role in shutting down baseload plants, is the conclusion that “dispatch of VRE has negatively impacted the economics of baseload plants.”
Whether they had a direct hand in the rewrite or not, the fingerprints of the fossil fuel and nuclear industries are all over those conclusions. Again, no surprise whatsoever. For decades, those industries have propagandized that “unreliable” renewable sources of power were and always would be technologically incapable of replacing the existing “stable” sources from fossil fuels and nukes. At best, they would just fill a few niches and be the province of affluent elitists. Just toys for the idle rich or useful in some remote locations.
The problem for the purveyors of this argument, just like the purveyors of “climate change is a hoax,” is that it’s collapsing beneath the weight of what’s actually happening in the world.
With the development of energy storage—batteries, pumped-hydro, molten salts, etc.—making many fresh technical advances and becoming ever cheaper, our new energy paradigm is perched for huge gains in the next few years. And while 100 percent renewables still gets a sneer from many critics, it has become more and more obvious that this goal can be achieved. The only questions remaining are how fast can we do it and how we can ensure that the spread of renewables doesn’t leave people of color and the poor to fend for themselves as this transformation moves forward.
2050 is the typical answer on timing. But that’s 30 years down the road and, in terms of climate change, sooner would be far better. Economically, technologically, and politically, this is not some pie-in-the-sky hippie-hope. As Bill McKibben has writtenin the latest edition of the democratic socialist magazine In These Times:
With each passing quarter, the 100 percent target is becoming less an aspirational goal and more the obvious solution. […]
Even 72 percent of Republicans want to “accelerate the development of clean energy.” That explains why, for example, the Sierra Club is finding dramatic success with its #ReadyFor100 campaign, which lobbies cities to commit to 100 percent renewable. Sure, the usual suspects, such as Berkeley, Calif., were quick to sign on. But by early summer the U.S. Conference of Mayors had endorsed the drive, and leaders were popping up in unexpected places. Columbia, S.C., Mayor Steve Benjamin put it this way: “It’s not merely an option now; it’s imperative.” […]
Environmental groups from the Climate Mobilization to Greenpeace to Food and Water Watch are backing the 100 percent target, differing mainly on how quickly we must achieve the transition, with answers ranging from one decade to around three. The right answer, given the state of the planet, is 25 years ago. The second best: as fast as is humanly possible. That means, at least in part, as fast as government can help make it happen. The market will make the transition naturally over time (free sunlight and wind is a hard proposition to beat), but time is the one thing we haven’t got, so subsidies, hard targets and money to help spread the revolution to the poorest parts of the world are all crucial.
That’s why it’s so significant that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) joined with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in April to propose the first federal 100 percent bill. It won’t pass Congress this year—but as a standard to shape the Democratic Party agenda in 2018 and 2020, it’s critically important.
Achieving environmental justice in the matter of renewables will require additional efforts. One answer among the many in this realm: municipally or cooperatively owned community solar.
Climate science deniers and self-interested energy foot-draggers have cost us a lot of time that could have been used to bring us halfway or more toward the 100 percent goal by now. The last thing we should do is allow the energy knuckledraggers to get away with propagandizing the worthiness of their approach with the kind of distorted crapola found in the redacted Perry report. As McKibben notes:
“There are a few reasons why 100% Renewable is working—why it’s such a powerful idea,” says Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “People have agency, for one. People who are outraged, alarmed, depressed, filled with despair about climate change—they want to make a difference in ways they can see, so they’re turning to their backyards. Turning to their city, their state, their university. And, it’s exciting—it’s a way to address this not just through dread, but with something that sparks your imagination.”
Sometimes, Brune says, all environmentalists have to rally together to work on the same thing, such as Keystone XL or the Paris accord. “But in this case the politics is as distributed as the solution. It’s people working on thousands of examples of the one idea.” An idea whose time has come.
(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)