What sounds like a bureaucratic, standard review of the electric grid has taken on a political life of its own as part of the controversy over whether the Trump administration will cut government support for renewable energy.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry has ordered his department to study the “long-term reliability of the electric grid,” focusing on whether federal regulations and subsidies for renewables have affected baseload power.
Appearing before a House panel Tuesday, Perry said the review would be out by the end of the month and had taken on particular importance amid skyrocketing temperatures in the West. The high in Phoenix hit 119 degrees Tuesday afternoon—so hot that some commercial airplanes were grounded.
“We may get a test this summer from the standpoint of our reliability. I hope that’s not the case; I hope we don’t see brownouts,” Perry said at a House Appropriations Committee hearing. The department, he said, was “looking at how we make America’s energy reliable, affordable, and sustainable. We know that requires a baseload capability that can run 24-7.”
The study is meant to focus on baseload plants, or the coal, gas, and nuclear facilities that provide around-the-clock power. The study, Perry said, would also focus on cybersecurity, ensuring that the grid was safe from hacks like the one seen in Ukraine in 2015.
And while Perry said it would incorporate a review of the role of renewables and other emerging technologies, the study has been criticized as a backdoor way for the Energy Department to justify rolling back its support for renewable energy. The very premise of the study—whether new energy sources such as wind and solar are harming the ability of the grid to supply necessary power—essentially assumes that non-coal sources are unreliable.
A memo announcing the grid study by Perry even noted “regulatory burdens introduced by the previous administration” that had “destroyed jobs and economic growth, and … threaten to undercut the performance of the grid well into the future.”
Perry added that the review should explore “the extent to which continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants.”
Renewable backers are pushing back ahead of the Energy Department’s release; the business groups Advanced Energy Economy and the American Wind Energy Association released a study Tuesday that they said would undercut Perry’s assumptions. The report, authored by Analysis Group, found “no evidence” that introducing renewables to the energy mix threatened reliability, instead focusing on the role of natural gas in challenging coal power.
The report also said that advanced energy offers reliability benefits by making the energy grid more diverse, and has made the idea of “baseload power” outdated because the growth in renewable and natural-gas plants makes it easier to ramp up and meet higher demand as needed.
“The electricity system in the United States is stronger than it’s ever been. Thanks to innovation and smart policy, we have a more diverse fuel mix, a more reliable grid, and lower electricity costs,” said AEE CEO Graham Richard. “As DOE finalizes its report on reliability, we hope the department will incorporate these key findings, which reflect the true state of the grid.”
That’s not to say that the grid study is being dismissed; even Democrat Nita Lowey, the ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, said it was important to upgrade both the reliability and security of the grid, calling it “arguably most complex and critical infrastructure in our nation.”
But it comes as the Trump administration has increasingly tried to prop up the ailing coal industry, rolling back federal regulations and threatening to cut clean-energy research.
The Energy Department’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget would cut 70 percent from the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, eliminate the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy program for advanced energy and make other research cuts focused on renewables.
But any potential challenge to renewables may be an uphill battle in Congress. Subcommittee ranking member Marcy Kaptur said the cuts to the research labs that support renewable energy were a “big worry.” At Tuesday’s budget hearing, members seemed to give Perry a pass, calling the proposal “Mulvaney’s budget” (in reference to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney), echoing the common stance among appropriators this year that the White House budget is dead on arrival.
Even Republicans have backed renewable energy; rural states like Iowa have ramped up their wind capacity (and while Perry was governor, Texas became the nation’s largest wind-power state). Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa may have even sent Perry the greatest warning about his grid study; in a letter last month, Grassley warned that a “hastily developed study, which appears to pre-determine that variable, renewable sources such as wind have undermined grid reliability, will not be viewed as credible, relevant or worthy of valuable taxpayer resources.”
What We're Following See More »
President Trump this afternoon announced another round of sanctions on North Korea, calling the regime "a continuing threat." The executive order, which Trump relayed to Congress, bans any ship or plane that has visited North Korea from visiting the United States within 180 days. The order also authorizes sanctions on any financial institution doing business with North Korea, and permits the secretaries of State and the Treasury to sanction any person involved in trading with North Korea, operating a port there, or involved in a variety of industries there.
"Seated next to Ukrainian President Poroshenko on his final day of meetings at the United Nations, Trump did not say when he might go to Puerto Rico, but spoke solemnly about the destruction to an island he said had been 'absolutely obliterated.'”
In response to a reporter's question, President Trump said "he’ll be looking to impose further financial penalties on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic tests. ... The U.N. has passed two resolutions recently aimed at squeezing the North Korean economy by cutting off oil, labor and exports to the nation." Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that South Korea's unification ministry is sending an $8m aid package aimed at infants and pregnant women in North Korea. The "humanitarian gesture [is] at odds with calls by Japan and the US for unwavering economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang."
Hurricane Irma "could even be the knockout blow for a product — orange juice — that has been slipping in popularity among Americans, although the beverage still ranks as the country's favorite 'fruit'...Ninety percent of the state’s $1 billion annual harvest is eventually processed into OJ." Per the executive director of the state citrus grower's association, "It’s somewhere between significant and catastrophic."