DOE grid study release delayed until July

Some studies are controversial even before they are undertaken. That is certainly the case with the study promised by new U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry. In April Perry announced a 60-day study on whether regulations, subsidies and tax policies are “responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload plants”, and further whether this would affect system reliability, according to Bloomberg.

And as the assumptions underlying this study come under increasing scrutiny, it now appears that the study will be delayed. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has now announced that the report would be delivered in early July to Secretary Perry, according to Axios citing DOE Spokesperson Shaylyn Hynes. This will be weeks after the 60 days expires, and DOE says that the study will not be released until after being reviewed by Perry.

This news comes a few days after trade group Advanced Energy Economy released a study which debunked the two major assumptions that the report is investigating, by showing that cheap natural gas was the leading cause of depressed wholesale markets, with renewables playing only a minor role, and also finding that replacing “baseload” coal and nukes with solar, wind and flexible gas assets is no threat to reliability.

The second is not a new discovery, given that European nations with the highest portions of solar and wind on their grids have either far better electric system reliability than the United States, or high reliability which improved after large amounts of solar and wind came online.

But Perry’s study has not only come under attack from trade groups. In mid-May U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to Secretary Perry expressing concern that the report “appears to pre-determine that variable, renewable sources such as wind have undermined grid reliability”, and asking if the report’s authors were going to consult the relevant federal agencies and grid operators.

Grassley also expressed concern about the compressed timeline for the study, noting that a study on this issue by the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratories took two years to complete.

But if the Trump Administration is rushing to stop renewable energy, it may be racing against the clock. Due to the step-down of the federal Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind, wind developers have been stockpiling wind turbines to comply with a “safe harbor” provision, with leading developer NextEra noting that it had already hoarded enough parts to build 10 GW of wind by 2020 and still claim the full credit.

Additionally, wind and increasingly solar projects are often located in “red” states which voted Republican in the last election, which could mean that any attempts to rapidly shift federal policies around these resources could stir backlash within the Republican Party.