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Renewables and Grid Reliability Focus of Court Ruling, Report

This week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously upheld the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval of new performance rules for power plants, rejecting environmentalists’ arguments that the rules discriminate against intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar (subscription). The court said FERC acted in a reasonable way when it allowed the PJM, the independent transmission operator in 13 Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states and Washington, D.C., to charge penalties to power plants that clear its capacity market but fail to provide continuous capacity. The rule change was prompted by the PJM’s grid reliability concerns in the wake of the East’s unusually cold winter in 2014, when a significant amount of natural gas generation became unavailable.

Concerns about grid reliability were also the subject of a new report, published in anticipation of a forthcoming study ordered by U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry on the electricity grid. The DOE study is planned to be released next month and is feared by environmentalists to undercut support for renewables (subscription).

The report released this week by consulting firm Analysis Group concluded that the addition of new natural gas-fired units and renewable energy capacity are increasing the nation’s electric reliability, not undermining it. According to the report, commissioned by the Advanced Energy Economy Institute and the American Wind Energy Association, efficient natural gas-fired generation and renewables increase reliability by increasing electric system diversity.

In calling for the grid study, Perry had suggested that renewable energy subsidies and related policies were jeopardizing reliability by decreasing the financial viability of baseload resources such as coal plants. The Analysis Group study said such policies were “a distant second to market fundamentals in causing financial pressure” on coal plants without long-term contracts. The biggest contributors to coal plants’ inability to compete, the report found, are new and efficient natural gas plants, low natural gas prices and flat electricity demand.

Moreover, the analysis challenged Perry’s statement, in the April 14 memo ordering the grid study, that “Baseload power is necessary to a well-functioning electric grid.” The report authors found that fears about the risks renewables pose to “baseload generation” don’t reflect understanding of a properly functioning electricity grid. They said “‘baseload resources’ is an outdated term in today’s electric system,” which seeks a combination of generation assets and grid-service technologies to allow for continuous power delivery.

Or as report co-author Susan Tierney, an Analysis Group senior advisor (and Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Advisory Board member), summed it up, “The transformation now under way in the electric power system is driven primarily by market forces. . . The result is a more diverse set of energy resources on the grid that is being capably managed in a way that provides reliable electric power.”

At a DOE budget hearing on Tuesday, Perry skirted details on his forthcoming policy declaration on baseload power and grid security.

Asked about his grid report, Perry said electric power security “requires a baseload capability that can run 24/7,” adding that the administration supports an “all of the above” approach to energy and that it is “[n]ot trying to pick winners and losers, but let the facts fall where they may” (subscription).

DOE Secretary Disputes Core Climate Science Finding

Department of Energy (DOE) head Rick Perry denied on Monday that carbon dioxide emissions from human activities are the main driver of the earth’s record-setting warming. Instead, Perry said, the driver is most likely “the ocean waters and this environment that we live in.”

“The idea the science is somehow settled, and if you don’t believe it’s settled you’re somehow or another a Neanderthal, that is so inappropriate from my perspective,” he said. “If you’re going to be a wise intellectual person, being a skeptic about some of these issues is quite all right.”

Those comments came a week after the DOE confirmed it was shuttering its international climate office and just days before Perry began defending to Congress the agency’s $28 billion budget request, which would slash many clean-energy programs, make a 17 percent cut in DOE’s Office of Science, and reduce by more than half research and development funding at the Office of Fossil Energy, which supports carbon capture and sequestration technology.

Oil Majors Sign on to Carbon Tax Proposal

Nearly a dozen multinational corporations, including oil giants Exxon and Shell, on Tuesday backed a plan from senior Republican statesmen to replace the Obama administration’s greenhouse gas regulations with a revenue-neutral carbon tax—that is, one that gives revenue directly back to citizens—a concept popular with economists. In a newspaper ad, the companies called for a “consensus climate solution that bridges partisan divides, strengthens our economy and protects our shared environment.” Exxon and the others were listed as founding members of the plan, along with the green groups Conservation International and the Nature Conservancy.

The proposal calls for a rising tax, starting at $40 for every ton of carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels, and a charge on imports in exchange for the Environmental Protection Agency being stripped of most powers to issue new emissions control regulations and repeal of the Clean Power Plan. Its proponents say this approach would create deeper emissions cuts than regulations—more than enough to meet the U.S. pledge under the Paris Agreement on global warming—and that in the first year the average family of four would receive approximately $2,000 as a carbon dividend.

The proposal was put forward by the Climate Leadership Council in February as part of a “free-market, limited government” response to climate change. It would require action from Congress, but the GOP, which controls both chambers, has shown no indication it would take it up. In fact, the House last year passed a nonbinding resolution—supported by every Republican member—to denounce a potential carbon tax.

 

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and cross-posted on the Huffington Post and National Geographic NewsWatch. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or subscribe to our YouTube channel for more updates.

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