Pat Behr, E&E News reporter
Energy Secretary Rick Perry has brought on veteran Texas energy consultant Alison Silverstein to produce his first major energy policy statement, a controversial study of whether federal tax and subsidy policies favoring renewable energy have burdened "baseload" coal-fired generation, putting power grid reliability at risk. Silverstein, who sources say will direct the writing of the report, which is due next month, was a senior adviser to former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Pat Wood III, a Texan picked by former President George W. Bush to lead the commission. She has also had leadership roles in organizations championing energy efficiency and "smart grid" technologies, which rank high on many Democrats' list of priority energy policies, but not most Republican or conservative energy agendas. Silverstein is secretary and former board president of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), which promotes advanced energy efficiency policies. She is also project manager of the North American SynchroPhasor Initiative, a collaboration among DOE, the power industry and national energy laboratories supporting a principal technology advanced by the Obama administration's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.
While at FERC, Silverstein was one of three principal authors of the U.S.-Canada report on the 2003 Northeast blackout, which recommended that the industry-monitored voluntary guidelines for power grid reliability be replaced by mandatory, enforceable standards. The mandatory policy was established by the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
The Perry report will be closely read for evidence of whether new DOE leadership will directly advocate for coal-fired generation, following President Trump's personal commitment to restoring coal industry jobs and production.
According to a copy of Perry's memo ordering the study's preparation, Perry criticized Obama administration clean energy policies, which he said were "designed to decrease coal-fired power generation" through the use of "market-distorting" federal subsidies favoring wind and solar energy. Prior policies have "destroyed jobs and economic growth, and they threaten to undercut the performance of the grid well into the future," Perry stated in the memo.
DOE's inquiry into these and other issues in the study has been wide-ranging and not tilted toward coal, department officials say. Experts from across the energy spectrum have been invited to weigh in, including those who challenge the idea that coal's eroding role as a power plant fuel is solely based on an Obama administration preference for renewable power.
"We haven't prejudged anything; it's the outside groups that are prejudging it," a top DOE official told E&E News. "It's going to be interesting to me to see how they respond to it, especially when it turns out to be a well-researched and balanced study" (Greenwire, May 30)