- Sierra Club on Monday announced it has sued the U.S. Department of Energy for "repeated delays" in providing information on an ongoing study of the electric grid and whether renewable energy hurts the nation's electric reliability.
- Secretary of Energy Rick Perry ordered the review in April, and in July a leaked copy of the report concluded that renewable energy is not threatening reliability and natural gas is primarily to blame for the retirement of baseload coal and nuclear plants.
- Sierra Club in May filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking communications between DOE officials working on the report and outside groups representing the fossil fuel industry or grid reliability experts.
The DOE's grid study has been hotly anticipated, particularly following the July draft leak and subsequent radio silence from federal officials. The Sierra Club said in a statement that its lawsuit was filed "amid suspicion that draft versions of the study may be dramatically altered by political appointees in the Trump administration."
“The public has every right to be concerned that the Trump administration is trying to use this study to push alternative facts about our electric grid," Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, said in a statement.
Hitt said repeated requests for information "have only been met with delays and secrecy."
The federal government's request for a baseload power assessment sparked concern in clean energy circles, with critics worried President Trump's promises to turn around the coal industry means the study's outcome is pre-ordained. In ordering the study, Perry praised baseload generators and appeared to single out intermittent resources for scrutiny.
A leaked draft of the report assuaged some concerns, at least initially. Language in the draft was in line with findings from national laboratories, independent consultancies and grid operators, who say that low natural gas prices and stagnant load growth are more important factors in the retirement of baseload generators.
Environmentalists, however, worry politics may have the final say. Hitt said that "if the Trump Administration refuses to be transparent in accordance with the law and continues to raise suspicion that it will interfere with the process, we have no choice but to take them to court.”
According to Sierra Club's complaint, "release of a final study is believed to be imminent."
A spokesperson for DOE told Utility Dive that the Department "does not comment on pending litigation," but that "DOE is committed to being responsive to all FOIA requests and that is not different in this case.”