May 1, 2017 - Energy & Environment

Rick Perry’s power study draws fresh worries

LM Otero / AP

Happening today: Major green energy trade groups are going public with concerns about a newly initiated, wide-ranging Energy Department study of power markets and reliability.

  • The 60-day study, begun in mid-April, is reviewing (among other things) whether "regulatory burdens" and "mandates and tax and subsidy policies" for renewables are forcing coal and nuclear plants into retirement.

Why it matters: The study is designed to help inform Trump administration policy, and represents one of Energy secretary Rick Perry's first major moves.

Driving the news: Three major groups — Advanced Energy Economy, the Solar Energy Industries Association, and the American Wind Energy Association — are out with a new letter to DOE this morning about the study.

  • What they want: It asks Perry to create a "public process" that will formally seek input from outside voices, including their groups, as the department crafts the study.
  • The letter says that "numerous" studies have shown that low natural gas prices and stagnant power demand are the main reasons why coal and nuclear plants are closing — not regulations and pro-renewables policies.

One level deeper: Renewables advocates are wary of the political appointee that Perry has reportedly tapped to lead the study. Economist Travis Fisher comes to DOE from the conservative Institute for Energy Research, a group with fossil fuel industry backing.

  • Sources tell Axios that Fisher had begun meeting with outside parties. But advocates want a more formalized and substantive stakeholder process.

Advocates of renewables, efficiency, and emerging grid technologies fear that the study will be used to justify rolling back federal support, and even spur moves against state-level policies that bolster those energy techs.

Quick take: They're worried that Perry will not have their back as expected. Renewables advocates had seen Perry, who compiled a pro-wind record as Texas governor, as a potential ally and moderating force in the Trump administration.

In Congress: A separate letter from seven Democratic senators, including Maria Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate's Energy Committee, attacks the study as a "thinly disguised attempt" to favor coal and nuclear at the expense of wind and solar energy.

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