DOE review author called renewable energy policies 'greatest emerging threat' to reliability

Dive Brief:

  • The U.S. Department of Energy's controversial baseload power review will be authored by an individual previously critical of clean energy policies, according to recent media reports.
  • Travis Fischer, author of a 2015 study critical of green policies, is writing the review, according to the Energy and Policy Institute, a watchdog group. Texas energy consultant Alison Silverstein, who consults with an advanced energy group, will direct the study, and could be a counterweight to Fisher.
  • The study will consult DOE national labs and the Energy Information Administration, but the New York Times reports it will not include input from state regulators or regional grid operators, due to time constraints. 

​Dive Insight:

In April, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry ordered a report to ascertain whether policies to boost renewable energy are hastening the retirement of coal and nuclear plants and threatening power reliability.

Due out June 26, the highly-anticipated study could give significant indication on how the Trump administration will move forward with energy policies. But observers have questioned whether the review will be entirely above-board, and reports a potential study author have redoubled those fears.

Trump campaigned on praising coal and natural gas while criticizing renewable energy, and any results of the review will be viewed in the context of those statements. Energy analyst Alex Gilbert, co-founder of Spark Library, told Utility Dive that "the administration has a huge credibility problem. ... this is a very clear example of how the toxic nature of environmental policy and electricity regulation is potentially harming other efforts to design a better system."

Trump appointed Travis Fisher to DOE, and now reports indicate he will be charged with authoring the review. In a 2015 report for the conservative Institute for Energy Research, Fisher called renewable energy an “unreliable” source of electricity. He also said policies to support renewable energy are “the single greatest emerging threat” to electric reliability.

Separately, E&E News reports Alison Silverstein will direct the study. She was previously a senior advisor to Pat Wood III when he chaired the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman, after being appointed by President George W. Bush.

Silverstein is an independent consultant and secretary of the board of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. She may represent a counterweight to Fisher, serving as a facilitator for a reliability working group in Hawaii aimed at integrating more renewables and distributed generation. The state has a 100% renewables mandate to hit by 2045. 

Perry's baseload review has drawn concern from clean energy supporters over fears that the results of any analysis have been pre-determined. His letter calling for the study did not mention solar and wind energy directly, but praised baseload generation while raising concerns about subsidies for other resources.

"Subsidies create acute and chronic problems for maintaining adequate baseload generation and have impacted reliable generators of all types," Perry wrote in the memo. He also tasked his chief of staff, former EEI policy head Brian McCormack, to ascertain whether wholesale power markets adequately value the reliability attributes of baseload coal and nuclear plants, including on-site fuel supply.

From president that campaigned on revitalizing the coal sector, many fear policies that could hurt non-emitting sources of energy.

"The President said he wanted to try and save coal," Jim Lazar, a senior advisor at the Regulatory Assistance Project, told Utility Dive. "If I thought it was an objective review I would certainly welcome it."

In Fischer's 2015 report for IER, he wrote: "The single greatest threat to reliable electricity in the U.S. does not come from natural disturbances or human attacks. Rather, the host of bad policies now coming from the federal government –  and unfortunately from many state governments – is creating far greater and more predictable problems with grid reliability."

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Filed Under: Generation Regulation & Policy
Top image credit: DOE