Grassley Calls Out Rick Perry

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Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is taking issue with an electric grid reliability study ordered by Energy Secretary Rick Perry (excuse me while I vomit), expressing concern that the Department of Energy has predetermined that wind energy is undermining the grid.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Perry, Grassley questioned the premise of the DOE grid reliability review and expressed confusion over Perry’s rush to finish the study. The DOE secretary gave his staff 60 days, or until mid-June, to complete its review on the nation’s electric grid.  “I’m concerned that a hastily developed study, which appears to pre-determine that variable, renewable sources such as wind have undermined grid reliability, will not be viewed as credible, relevant or worthy of valuable taxpayer resources,” Grassley wrote in the letter.

In April, Perry issued a memo to his chief of staff ordering DOE to study whether government support for wind energy and other renewable energy resources is “threatening the reliability of the nation’s power grid.”  There would, on its face, be little to substantiate the reason for such concern.  The memo specifically directed the agency to look at the extent to which “continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants.”  One might argue that Perry was making a nakedly political move to support Trump’s embrace of dirty energy sources such as coal and oil, the former of which has taken a big market share hit because of cheaper and cleaner renewables.  That argument gains further support when one considers that Texas has a really substantial wind energy generating capacity.

Grassley’s letter contends that the study appears to be duplicative of research done during the Obama administration -which reached an opposite conclusion.  In a study that took the DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory two years to complete, released in 2012, the NREL concluded that renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, provides enough reliability to supply 80 percent total U.S. electricity generation in 2050.  This is corroborated by the real world experience of countries such as Germany who have invested heavily in renewables.

Grassley is a long-time leader in Congress for favorable tax treatment of wind energy, including the wind energy production tax credit, which is set to phase down over the next few years before ending in 2020. Wind currently generates over 36 percent of Iowa’s electricity, ranking the state first in the nation for wind energy as a share of total electricity generation.

“Not only is Iowa’s wind energy resource reliable, it’s also affordable,” Grassley told Perry. MidAmerican Energy, the largest electric utility in the state and a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy, has had only one electricity rate increase since 1998 and the utility company’s rates are the ninth-lowest nationally, the senator noted.

The Iowa senator suggested DOE staffers study his home state’s experience with wind energy. “Any study reviewing the impact of wind energy on grid reliability and security should look closely at Iowa’s utility operations as evidence of its success,” Grassley said.

Two weeks after Perry ordered the grid reliability study, several Democratic senators characterized the request as “a thinly disguised attempt to promote less-economic electric generation technologies, such as coal and nuclear, at the expense of cost-competitive wind and solar power.”

“It does not take a Ph.D. in economics to understand that it is historically low natural gas prices that are challenging the viability of other conventional generating sources in electricity markets,” the Democratic senators wrote.