Late Wednesday, Trump’s Secretary of Energy Rick Perry released a controversial grid report in an effort to pressure market operators, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and utilities to bail out aging coal and nuclear plants by forcing electricity customers to pay more for their expensive electricity. But the facts throughout the report don’t support those conclusions. To sum up the report in a tweet, Trump and the coal industry want customers to pay more for dirtier power. Meanwhile, most everyone else (including the Sierra Club) is making it possible for customers to pay less and get cleaner energy - something that is now a reality across this country.
Even before the report was released, its credibility was questioned by electrical engineers, policy experts, and electricity industry stakeholders as a political ploy by the Trump administration to prop up old dirty energy plants at the expense of the rapidly growing clean energy sector. Their suspicions were confirmed when a draft copy of the report was released early by nonpartisan Department of Energy (DOE) career professionals, and then quickly retracted by DOE’s political press office.
It’s disappointing ― but not surprising ― that Rick Perry took a well-crafted, insightful draft report from nonpartisan Department of Energy professionals and tried to make it into a talking points memo for coal and nuclear subsidies.
The initial draft report was informed by studies from energy policy experts, major universities, and nonpartisan energy stakeholder reports. It found that wind and solar energy strongly contributed to the affordability, reliability, and resilience of the grid; lowered prices for customers; and would continue to grow rapidly into the future.
But some of this “new” report’s recommendations echo the unsubstantiated claim that coal and nuclear plants are needed for grid reliability, and recommend that rules be changed to compensate them regardless of their competitiveness against cleaner, cheaper, and more flexible energy sources like wind and solar. What’s more, buried in the report are statements claiming that wind and solar have not been a factor in coal and nuclear plant retirements - when in fact, those resources are playing a significant role in stabilizing electric prices and making utility bills more manageable for consumers. Joe Romm highlighted those and even more false claims in his column as well.
The report’s secrecy before its release has been unprecedented and even prompted the Sierra Club to file a lawsuit against DOE under the Freedom of Information Act for access to basic information on the report’s premises and consultations. Perry has refused input from clean energy jobs creators, outside energy experts, and even members of Congress. The report’s release is widely viewed as another instance of the Trump administration turning its back on basic transparency to the public.
The failed spin of this study is one more sign that the Trump administration is creating its energy agenda by looking in the rearview mirror, while clean energy passes them by in the fast lane. There is no evidence, in this report or elsewhere, that coal or nuclear plants are vital to our grid’s long-term reliability, or that there will be increasing demand for them. In fact, all trends point in the opposite direction.
This report is nothing more than a half-baked attempt by the Trump Administration and its dirty energy allies to assemble a flimsy rationale in hopes of pressuring FERC, grid managers, and utilities to bail out uneconomical, highly subsidized coal and nuclear plants.
The truth is simple: coal and nuclear can no longer compete on their own, and they are now pushing Trump to save them. This study is a shoddy attempt to do just that, and considering that the Sierra Club just marked the nation’s 257th coal plant retirement, it isn’t going to work.