Mon, Jul 17, 2017 - Page 15 News List

Renewable energy not a threat to grid: US draft study

Bloomberg

Wind and solar power do not pose a significant threat to the reliability of the US power grid, US Department of Energy staff members said in a draft report, contradicting statements by US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry.

“The power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards,” said this month’s draft of the study obtained by reporters.

The findings — which are still under review by the department’s leadership — contrast with Perry’s arguments that “baseload” sources, such as coal and nuclear power that provide constant power, are jeopardized by incentives for renewable energy enacted by the administration of former US president Barack Obama, making the grid unreliable.

“I’ve asked the staff of the Department of Energy to undertake a critical review of regulatory burdens placed by the previous administration on baseload generators,” Perry said last month. “Over the last several years, grid experts have expressed concern about the erosion of critical baseload resources.”

Two people familiar with the report, who asked not to be identified discussing internal deliberations, confirmed the early conclusions, although said they are subject to change.

It is customary for administration officials to put their own stamp on reports prepared by career staff at federal agencies.

“Those statements as written are not in the current draft,” US Department of Energy spokeswoman Shaylyn Hynes said.

She would not say they are incorrect, just the draft is “constantly evolving.”

The report, which is overdue, could be released as soon as this week.

RELIABLE SUPPLIES

In April, Perry launched the grid study with an eye to examining whether policies that favor wind and solar energy are accelerating the retirement of coal and nuclear plants critical to ensuring reliable power supplies.

With US President Donald Trump pledging to reverse regulations that have harmed coal, the study was viewed by critics as a way the administration would justify curtailing the surging expansion of wind and solar power, and provide help to coal plants.

However, the draft report concluded that “grid operators are using technologies, standards and practices to assure that they can continue operating the grid reliably.”

“Costly environmental regulations and subsidized renewable generation have exacerbated baseload power plant retirements,” it said. “However, those factors 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 separate, six-page draft outline prepared in May by department staff and also obtained by reporters said that the aging coal and nuclear fleet is under stress from competitive electricity markets, weak demand and rising maintenance costs.

The career officials at the department found that energy efficiency, battery storage and demand response were helping the reliability of the grid, changing it from the way it had operated in the past, but not endangering the provision of electricity, the May draft showed.

Aging coal and nuclear plants have higher maintenance costs and are getting lower payments because of expiring contracts, making them less profitable, the May document said.

FALLING PROFITABILITY

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