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What we know so far about Rick Perry’s power grid “study”

Among Rick Perry’s first acts as Secretary of Energy was calling for a 60-day “study” of whether any policies or regulations have led to the premature retirement of coal or nuclear plants. I – and many others in the clean energy industry – are concerned this so-called study will amount to little more than a pro-coal fluff piece.

To people familiar with energy policy and the coal industry’s rhetoric, Perry’s request is a transparent promotion of coal and a backdoor attack on clean energy resources, like solar, wind, and energy efficiency. Besides, 60 days is barely enough time to fill job vacancies in a new administration, much less conduct a thorough analysis of America’s complex energy policies.

But until the report is released, we can only look at what Perry and other Trump appointees have said and done about energy, generally, and coal, specifically, to predict what arguments Perry’s office will make.

Over the next few weeks, EDF will examine several of the administration’s pro-coal arguments and explain why:

  • Perry’s coal propaganda has nothing to do with reliability and everything to do with giving the pollution industry what it wants. The “grid reliability” angle is a ruse, and one Perry used a decade ago when he tried to fast track new coal plants in Texas. This issue has been studied relentlessly by grid operators and government agencies around the country, and the grid is handling coal’s decline just fine. The Trump administration is using the reliability argument as cover to distract the American people from their close ties with the coal industry. Just look at Perry’s staff at DOE – it’s a who’s who of the fossil fuel industry lobby. His Chief of Staff, who will manage the study, worked for the Edison Electric Institute – where he led its anti-solar campaign.
  • Perry’s (and Trump’s and Pruitt’s) flip-flop on states’ rights is hypocritical. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt recently took time off from decimating our clean air and water protections to second Perry’s argument that some state policies that encourage fuels other than coal could be a national security risk and should be reversed. I must admit, suggesting that coal makes America safer is a clever tactic. But it’s not true, and I suspect this tack is little more than a way for Perry and Pruitt to counter all their vile attacks against the federal government when they were governor of Texas and attorney general of Oklahoma. Apparently, states’ rights are so 2016.
  • Coal is terrible for the economy, human health, and the environment. Propping up the ailing coal industry will hurt the economy and American jobs, serving as another broken promise from Trump. Market trends undeniably show that cleaner, smarter energy – like solar and wind – is creating more jobs than fossil fuel electricity. Furthermore, we know doubling down on dirty coal means more asthma attacks, more health problems for elderly Americans, and a more polluted future.

The Trump administration may look chaotic, but its actions suggest it is meticulously and unapologetically laying the groundwork for four years of pro-coal policy. This so-called study is just another step of the plan. See also Trump’s latest 2018 budget proposal – leaked last week – which aims to cut funding for DOE’s renewable and energy efficiency program by 70 percent.

So stay tuned. It’s going to be an interesting few weeks.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

This post originally appeared on EDF Voices blog and was republished with EDF's permission from here.

Discussions

Perhaps there is a need to look beyond the politics of the EDF and look at what is happening despite any actions or inaction that the Trump Administration undertakes. I would point out that the 3 most recent posts on the EDF website are anti-Trump.  Power generating companies are looking beyond coal needless of the actions emanating out of Washington. One bright spot is the giant electric utility, FPL, headquartered in Juno Beach, Florida. Here are points to ponder.

"Located in Jacksonville, SJRPP (St. Johns River Power Park) is currently one of the highest-cost generating facilities to operate and maintain for both FPL's and JEA's systems. Advances in technology have made cleaner, more fuel-efficient power generation from natural gas and solar more cost-effective, and the addition of a third major natural gas pipeline into Florida will soon make it possible for the generation of clean, affordable power to serve Floridians' needs without SJRPP and two other coal plants that FPL is shutting down."

"Over the last two years, FPL bought out existing contracts with two independently owned coal-fired power plants with the goal of shutting down both plants, saving hundreds of millions of dollars for customers as well as reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The first of these, the Cedar Bay plant in Jacksonville, ceased operations at the end of 2016. The second, the Indiantown Co-generation plant in Martin County, is on track to close by the end of 2019. FPL continues to look for additional opportunities to save customers money and generate cleaner energy."

"FPL already operates more solar than any other utility in Florida with 335 megawatts that includes six universal solar power plants. The company is moving forward with plans to add nearly 2,100 megawatts of new universal solar from 2017 through 2023. Based on the technology currently being installed, nearly 2,100 megawatts of new solar translates into approximately 9 million solar panels, which if placed end to end, would stretch from Miami to Sydney, Australia. FPL expects to build all of this proposed new universal solar capacity cost-effectively – meaning these investments will result in net savings for FPL customers."

"The first eight new solar plants – approximately 600 megawatts combined – are on track to be completed less than a year from now. They are projected to generate estimated net lifetime savings of more than $39 million for FPL customers. The other approximately 1,500 megawatts of solar are anticipated for 2019 through 2023."

The parent of FPL is NextEra Energy (NEE-NYSE) which is the largest generator of wind and solar renewable energy in the world.

The point is, smart, progressive (I hate that word for the political connotations) electric companies looking to the future ar moving away from coal as fast as possible.  Natural Gas (NG), cleaner but still not as clean as solar and wind, is needed as a base load for the generating system to maintain system stability. Nuclear is the cleanest base load fuel for generation after solar and wind. In the coming years as battery technology progresses we will see that source added to NG, solar, wind, water, hydro and other resources to help maintain system stability. Smart meters and smart houses through the use of nanotechnology and advanced electronics are beginning to make an impact on maintaining system stability and have a bright future.

The future in clean energy production is not in the hands of Washington, except that they can tie the hands of advances in technology by placing too many restrictions on companies. We would not have Google, Amazon, Tesla, Apple, UBER or thousands of other companies if the government had placed too many adverse restrictions on those companies and killed the innovation.

Point is, sensible government regulations can be good, massive overburden of regulations are bad. Companies will eventually do what is right because the free market demands it - not government.

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Cost is a major issue with mainstream renewables at the moment. We did a study recently and found that wind and solar are at least 30% more expensive than traditional energy in Northeast if analyzed on the total cost basis. Nuclear and hydro are the cheapest, but have a myriad of environmental issues of their own. I am not sure how FPL can guarantee savings, but I guess in Florida it makes a lot more economical sense as there is more day light. However, depending on climate and geography some renewable technologies might simply be uneconomical. I am not a proponent of coal, but it is most likely will persist in energy mix in some states, as its complete elimination might spell significantly higher prices for consumers.

Though I agree with you that it is the market not the government that will ultimately influence the energy future in this country. 

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