DOE Grid Study Correctly Shows Wind, Solar Not a Threat to Electricity Reliability

Statement by Steve Clemmer, Director of Energy Research and Analysis

Published Aug 24, 2017

WASHINGTON (August 24, 2017)—Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Rick Perry released a study late yesterday reaffirming what energy experts, including those at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), have been saying for years—low natural gas prices are the main reason for recent coal and nuclear power plant retirements. Based largely on input from experts at DOE’s national labs, the study shows recent growth in wind and solar power is creating new jobs and is not a threat to reliability, contradicting previous claims made by Perry.

However, the report fails to mention the growing threat of climate change to grid reliability and resilience, the important public health and climate benefits of renewable energy, and the enormous subsidies fossil fuels and nuclear power have received for decades.

Below is a statement by Steve Clemmer, director of energy research and analysis at UCS.

“Despite his initial efforts to pre-determine the results, Secretary Perry was unable to whiteout the truth—just as diversifying investments strengthens a financial or retirement portfolio, diversifying the U.S. electricity mix with renewables is making the grid more reliable and resilient. The market-driven reality is that cheap natural gas, wind, and solar are outcompeting aging, expensive coal plants. Renewable energy is creating American jobs and lowering electricity prices for consumers, while ensuring cleaner air and water for all of us. In fact, wind and solar industry jobs now far outweigh all coal industry jobs nationally and in at least 40 states.

“The study cites overwhelming evidence from real-world experience, as well as multiple scientific studies by the department’s own national labs and regional grid operators, confirming that the U.S. can safely and reliably operate the electric grid with high levels of renewables. These studies project renewables will be able to provide 80 percent of the nation’s electricity mix by 2050, while maintaining reliability. Wind and solar already provide many essential reliability services as well or better than inflexible coal and nuclear plants.

“However, the study fails to acknowledge that extreme heat and drought, sea-level rise, and other climate change impacts worsened by fossil fuels should be addressed as they likely pose a greater and growing threat to grid reliability and resilience, increasing the possibility of blackouts. It also completely ignores the large public health and environmental impacts of burning fossil fuels that are not included in electricity prices and huge subsidies coal, natural gas and nuclear power have received for decades. Putting a price on carbon or removing all energy subsidies—ideas mentioned in an earlier draft of the study and currently proposed in Congress—could go a long way in creating a level playing field for energy sources and addressing the growing climate crisis, exacerbated by President Trump’s decision to pull out the Paris Agreement.

“DOE’s study recommends placing value on the essential reliability services that renewables provide, something UCS supports. Increasing investments in transmission and energy storage to modernize the grid and make it more flexible are also crucial. However, we cannot support recommendations intended to bailout fossil fuels like coal and undermine renewable energy.”

Find a related report by UCS, “Lights Out? Storm Surge, Blackouts, and How Clean Energy Can Help,” by clicking here