Trump Officials Rewrite Energy Dept. Study to Make Renewables Look Bad, Fail Anyway

Joe Romm ThinkProgress

Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s long-awaited grid study is finally out. But while Trump officials clearly tried to rewrite the previously leaked staff draft to give the impression that renewable energy sources are a threat to baseload power and grid resilience, they mostly botched the job.

Back in April, Perry ordered a study to back up his claims that solar and wind power were undermining the U.S. electric grid’s reliability and forcing the premature retirement of baseload nuclear and coal plants. In July, Bloomberg obtained the draft report, written by Department of Energy staff, and revealed that they found essentially the opposite, as we reported.

A second bombshell conclusion in the draft report was that “the power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards.”

Both of those bombshells are nowhere to be found in the final version released late Wednesday. So what caused the baseload retirements? The final report concedes that “the biggest contributor… has been the advantaged economics of natural gas-fired generation,” and that “another factor… is low growth in electricity demand.”

But in place of the finding that subsidies for variable renewable energy (VRE) — basically wind and solar — had a minor role in shutting down baseload plants, is the conclusion that “dispatch of VRE has negatively impacted the economics of baseload plants.” And on a related note, the final version of the report states that “participants on a panel of economists at a May 2017 FERC technical conference cited state-level RPS and Federal tax credits for VRE as examples of wholesale market impacts and distortions.”

But buried deeper in the 187-page report is a finding that completely contradicts the stated conclusion of the rewritten report: “To date, however, the data do not show a widespread relationship between VRE penetration and baseload retirements, as shown in Figure 3.28.”

Figure 3.28 clearly shows that coal and nuclear retirements (brown dots) have no correlation with variable renewable energy penetration.

Nonetheless, in his letter accompanying the report, Perry asserts that “It is apparent that in today’s competitive markets certain regulations and subsidies are having a large impact on the functioning of markets, and thereby challenging our power generation mix.”

Oops!

Not only were renewables not a major factor in coal and nuclear retirements, but the final DOE study also concludes that the grid is more reliable than ever. It’s just not as blunt about it as the draft was.

You have to read to page 63 to find this about the crucial metric of Bulk Power System (BPS) reliability:

BPS reliability is adequate today despite the retirement of 11 percent of the generating capacity available in 2002, as significant additions from natural gas, wind, and solar have come online since then. Overall, at the end of 2016, the system had more dispatchable capacity capable of operating at high utilization rates than it did in 2002.

So, after integrating all of that wind and solar while shutting down all that baseload power (mostly coal), the grid actually has more flexibility than it did  a decade and a half ago.

But Perry mentions nothing about that in his letter, and the political team who wrote the findings can’t bring themselves to say any more than “to date, wholesale markets have withstood a number of stresses.” But then they quickly seek to raise doubts about the future, warning that “market designs may be inadequate given potential future challenges. VRE—with near-zero marginal costs and if at high penetrations—will lower wholesale energy prices independent of effects of the current low natural gas prices.”

Pretty scary, unless you stop to realize that if the Trump administration wasn’t committed to diminishing renewable energy sources and boosting coal at every opportunity, they would actually be bragging about lower wholesale energy prices in the future.

And again, buried on page 123 of the report is that statement:  “Increasingly, VRE also performs a price stabilizing role—wind, solar PV, hydropower, and geothermal generation offer near zero-marginal-cost electricity. To the degree that VRE and nuclear can stabilize the short run cost of bulk power, those resources could also improve the month-to-month manageability of customer bills.”

In other words, renewable energy helps stabilize prices and make Americans’ electricity bills more manageable. And, as we’ve learned from this study, renewables weren’t a major player in the shutdown of baseload coal and nuclear, and the grid is more reliable than ever.

Seems like the Perry report proves we need more renewables.

***

Reposted from ThinkProgress

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Failing Bridges Hold Public Hostage

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) gave the public just a few hours’ notice before closing a major bridge in March, citing significant safety concerns.

The West Seattle Bridge functioned as an essential component of  the city’s local and regional transportation network, carrying 125,000 travelers a day while serving Seattle’s critical maritime and freight industries. Closing it was a huge blow to the city and its citizens. 

Yet neither Seattle’s struggle with bridge maintenance nor the inconvenience now facing the city’s motorists is unusual. Decades of neglect left bridges across the country crumbling or near collapse, requiring a massive investment to keep traffic flowing safely.

When they opened it in 1984, officials predicted the West Seattle Bridge would last 75 years.

But in 2013, cracks started appearing in the center span’s box girders, the main horizontal support beams below the roadway. These cracks spread 2 feet in a little more than two weeks, prompting the bridge’s closure.

And it’s still at risk of falling.  

The city set up an emergency alert system so those in the “fall zone” could be quickly evacuated if the bridge deteriorates to the point of collapse.

More than one-third of U.S. bridges similarly need repair work or replacement, a reminder of America’s urgent need to invest in long-ignored infrastructure.

Fixing or replacing America’s bridges wouldn’t just keep Americans moving. It would also provide millions of family-supporting jobs for steel and cement workers, while also boosting the building trades and other industries.

With bridges across the country close to failure and millions unemployed, America needs a major infrastructure campaign now more than ever.

 

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work