Perry picks Texas consultant to lead grid study 

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)

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Trump vs renewable energy: not as bad as it looks


Behind President Donald Trump's dismissive rhetoric of renewable energy is a muddled picture. Executives in the industry are seeing signs the administration won't actually be as bad for them as feared.

Why it matters: Wind and solar power use skyrocketed across the U.S. over the past decade thanks in part to tax incentives and friendly policies by former President Obama. Growth in the industries led to job creation and political clout, and now renewable power is cost-competitive with other sources of electricity in some parts of the U.S., though fossil fuels remain America's dominant source of electricity. To what extent the Trump administration seeks to undermine these trends could slow, but not reverse, renewable growth.

A mix of uncertainty, chaos and ambivalence is how industry insiders attending the American Wind Energy Association's annual conference last week in Anaheim, Calif., described the Trump administration's position on renewables. In meetings with industry executives, agency officials haven't been antagonistic toward renewables, but coordinated attention isn't there either.

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Calpine, NRG post report that seeks changes in ERCOT pricing, settlement rules


Calpine and NRG Energy filed Wednesday a commissioned report with the Texas Public Utility Commission that recommends changes to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas' pricing and settlement rules.

The commissioned report, titled "Priorities for the Evolution of an Energy-Only Electricity Market Design in ERCOT," was prepared by William Hogan of Harvard and Susan Pope of FTI Consulting.

Calpine and NRG, which are both big power generators in Texas, said they requested the report in the hopes of drawing attention to the difficulties the two are facing with subsidized renewables.

Texas has seen its wind generation reach roughly 21,000 MW of installed capacity, roughly one-fourth of the state's total generating capacity of about 84,000 MW.

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These bills target wind energy with ham-fisted 'fixes' based on baseless claims


The wind energy industry has long had some lawmakers gunning for it. The latest rear-guard action is a disingenuous effort to portray the industry as a threat to military preparedness. 

State Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, and Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, have emerged as the faces of wind-energy opposition using the proximity of wind projects to military bases as a pretext to take away all-important tax incentives for clean energy. They've introduced companion bills, SB 277 and HB 445, to deny tax incentives to developers of new wind turbines within 30 miles of a military airfield. 

And in Washington, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, are backing federal bills that would impose similar restrictions nationwide.

Yes, poorly located turbines can interfere with low-level military flight training exercises and hinder the detection of small planes on radar systems. But there is already a national process for wind farm developers, local communities and military installations to review pending wind farms. If a base commander has concerns that can't be resolved, those wind projects won't be built. 

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SA Congressman's District Tops Lone Star State for Solar Jobs


The solar energy industry is growing the fastest in some of the most politically conservative corners of the Lone Star State, a new report from the Solar Foundation shows.

The foundation released its annual Solar Jobs Census last week with charts that display the distribution of solar jobs by counties and by districts for the Texas House of Representatives, Texas Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.

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Large Scale Solar Power Grows Rapidly


Large-scale solar power has grown rapidly over the past six years as falling solar panel prices, tax incentives and government policies aimed at boosting renewable energy encourage the development of major solar projects.

The installed capacity of so-called utility-scale projects - greater than one megawatt, or enough to power 200 homes on a hot Texas day - has increased an average of more than 70 percent a year between 2010 and 2016 to about 21,500 megawatts, with about half of that capacity coming online in the last two years.

Utility-scale solar, however, still accounts for a tiny share of the nation's electricity production. Last year, it represented less than 1 percent of the country's utility power generation capacity. Wind accounts for 5.6 percent of the nation's generation capacity, according to the Energy Department.

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U.S. Wind Energy Installations Surge: A New Turbine Rises Every 2.4 Hours


Every two and a half hours, workers installed a new wind turbine in the United States during the first quarter of 2017, marking the strongest start for the wind industry in eight years, according to a new report by the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) released on May 2.

"We switched on more megawatts in the first quarter than in the first three quarters of last year combined," Tom Kiernan, CEO of AWEA, said in a statement.

Nationwide, wind provided 5.6 percent of all electricity produced in 2016, an amount of electricity generation that has more than doubled since 2010. Much of the demand for new wind energy generation in recent years has come from Fortune 500 companies including Home Depot, GM, Walmart and Microsoft that are buying wind energy in large part for its low, stable cost.

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CPS develops $10M battery to store renewable power


San Antonio-based CPS Energy is working on a project that, if successful, will help solve one of its trickiest problems in solar and wind energy production.

The public utility won a $3 million grant from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to develop a commercial battery to store large amounts of solar and wind power during peak production, which generally isn’t when people need it the most.

Renewable energy production can be fickle and unpredictable since it relies on the weather. Peak usage in Texas, on the other hand, is almost always in the evenings when people get home and turn on the air conditioning. The trouble with using wind and solar energy is shifting the power produced during the day and at night to peak usage times.

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Advanced Microgrid Solutions and Pedernales Electric Cooperative Win $3.24 Million Department of Energy Grant to Advance Grid Integration of Solar Energy in Texas


SAN FRANCISCO, and JOHNSON CITY, Texas, Feb. 2, 2017 /PRNewswire/ -- Advanced Microgrid Solutions (AMS) and Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) announced today that they were awarded a $3.24 million grant by the Department of Energy (DOE) to demonstrate the use of advanced energy storage technologies to integrate high penetrations of solar energy into the electric grid in Texas. 

The project is a collaboration among leading-edge companies in the energy storage space including AMS, Opus One Solutions and GridBright in partnership with Pedernales Electric Cooperative.  Pedernales is the largest electric distribution cooperative in the United States, serving nearly 290,000 meters over more than 8,100 square miles in Texas.

"Texas is the new frontier for integrating renewable energy into the electric grid," said AMS CEO Susan Kennedy. "The enormous penetration of wind and solar in Texas has created significant challenges in managing the distribution grid.  PEC is taking on a challenge the whole country is facing."

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Report Shows New Transmission Can Help Wind Energy Supply a Third of U.S. Electricity


The Energy Department today released a report which confirms that adding even limited electricity transmission can significantly reduce the costs of expanding wind energy to supply 35% of U.S. electricity by 2050. The report, titled Reducing Wind Curtailment through Transmission Expansion in a Wind Vision Future and authored by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), affirms the findings of the Energy Department’s 2015 Wind Vision, which showed that a future in which wind provides 20% of U.S. electricity in 2030 and 35% in 2050 is achievable and would provide significant economic, energy security, and health benefits to the nation.
For the study, NREL simulated operation of the electric power grid under a scenario where 35% of electricity comes from wind in the year 2050 using PLEXOS, an integrated modeling tool commonly used by utilities and transmission organizations. The study focuses on the Western Interconnection grid, which includes 11 states, two Canadian provinces, and parts of northern Mexico where the U.S. grid crosses the border. The study includes a baseline scenario assuming no significant transmission expansion across the western grid, as well as three scenarios with varying levels of transmission buildout.

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