Week Ending September 28, 2018

Wheeler, Zinke, Others Discuss Bipartisan Efforts in Clean Energy Policy

This Article Appears as Published in Foster Report No 3217
Wheeler, Zinke, Others Discuss Bipartisan Efforts in Clean Energy Policy

An all-of-the-above energy policy of the Trump administration was touted by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Environmental Protection Agency Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, and others at a September 26 event focusing on clean energy policies.

Zinke, Wheeler, officials from the Department of Energy (DOE) and others touted the job growth, domestic manufacturing base and economic benefits of renewable resources like wind, solar and hydropower. The growth of natural gas-fired generation to support intermittent renewable generation facilities also was mentioned by Bryan Just, senior economist at the American Petroleum Institute.

Energy policy discussions should reflect bipartisan support, but partisan bickering can hinder progress at some levels, speakers said at the National Clean Energy Week symposium held at the National Press Club by the Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES).

Zinke experienced bickering of a different sort when two audience members interrupted his speech with comments about him accepting money from “corporate polluters.” He commented that a strength of the U.S. has been open debates and freedom of speech, “but when you have the anger and lack of civility” shown by protestors, it makes it harder for decisions to be made.

Zinke acknowledged that President Donald Trump is not liked in some quarters, but “he’s pretty easy to figure out,” in that he keeps track of campaign promises made and how cabinet members are doing in helping the administration meet its goals. A white board in the White House lists goals and executive orders, with input from cabinet members, and “the president holds you accountable,” to meeting those goals, Zinke said.

At the Interior Department, with responsibility for managing federal land, Zinke said he supports expanding renewable resources, leasing offshore acreage for oil and natural gas development, where production and investment will decline over time, and opening offshore regions for wind energy development.

The development of energy resources is driving the U.S. economy, Zinke said, allowing the U.S. to supplant Russia as a dominant natural gas supplier in some regions of the globe.

In the renewable energy sector, Zinke advocated for rooftop solar resources compared with large-scale solar projects on federal land. Such large projects provide more power, but they’re single-use facilities that can affect habitat and limit recreation use on federal land, he noted.

Renewable power project developers represent the innovative spirit of America, Zinke and others said at the conference. The growth of renewable resources and the use of cleaner burning natural gas to support the intermittency of wind and solar facilities is a key part of “the remarkable energy success story” in the U.S., with the nation obtaining energy from a wider variety of resources than ever before, said Mark Menezes, under secretary for energy at DOE.

Through DOE labs and other venues, the Trump administration is developing technologies to support an all-of-the-above energy strategy, Menezes and Wheeler said in separate speeches at the event. “We’re living in a golden age of American energy production,” Wheeler said.

And the energy production gains are boosting the economy without harming the environment, Wheeler said, referring to a July report from EPA that showed reductions of six key air pollutants by 73% between 1970 and 2017. A 73% reduction in other social ills such as crime or drug addiction “would lead the evening news,” but the EPA report did not gain much attention, he said.

At EPA, “we respect the role of states” and uphold the rule of law, which were key principles in the agency replacing the Clean Power Plan with the Affordable Clean Energy rule, Wheeler said. When the proposed rule is fully implemented, it will reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the power sector by 34% from 2005 levels, he noted.

The rule will achieve emission reductions while allowing coal-fired generation to be a key part of the generation mix through New Source Review permitting that will allow efficiency improvements at existing facilities, Wheeler said.

He also referred to innovative approaches for renewable generation projects, such as installing solar power facilities at a Superfund site in New Bedford Harbor, Massachusetts and at the Rocky Flats former plutonium site in Colorado.

Federal and state policymakers, consumers and renewable energy project developers addressed regulatory rewards and barriers that are affecting development of renewable resources. Stability, or the lack of it, was a theme addressed by several speakers.

The production tax credit (PTC) for renewable generation resources went through annual renewals for many years, with investments boosted or slowed based on the annual renewal debate in Congress, said Maggie Lemmerman, senior director of federal affairs at the American Wind Energy Association. The annual uncertainty hindered long-term investments. And even though the PTC has been extended with a five-year phase out to end it in the coming years, that orderly phase-out provides investors guidance for when and how the PTC will go away, and wind power projects continue to grow, she said.

Lemmerman referred to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing the two fastest-growing jobs in America are solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians, illustrating the boost the renewable power sector provides the U.S. economy.

With the right policies, the energy sector can expand job opportunities in infrastructure development, added Just of API.

Among energy policy debates, putting a price on carbon or imposing a carbon tax to incentivize cleaner generation resources is one of the sticking points for politicians, but renewable resources are getting cost competitive with fossil fuel generation facilities, several speakers said.

Markets develop well when policies are consistent and regulators over see them evenhandedly, but if policymakers try to “bake in” outcomes that they want to see, it will hinder market development, said Arvin Ganesan, responsible for energy and environmental policy at Apple Corp.

“Energy is a bipartisan issue,” and “the important thing is to have a constructive dialogue,” said Heather Reams, managing director at CRES. “We know we’re in different places on different issues,” she said.

At FERC, the Commission’s role includes ensuring that the power grid remains reliable and resilient and that wholesale power markets are competitive and available to all generation resources, said Commissioner Neil Chatterjee. FERC has made good strides to ensure access for renewable energy and energy storage resources through Order 841 that removed barriers to storage resources participating in organized wholesale markets, he said.

Like other speakers, Chatterjee asserted that the U.S. is nearing a time when renewable resources can compete on cost with tradition generation facilities and make money without subsidies.

Addressing the open commissioner seat at FERC vacated by Robert Powelson in August, Chatterjee downplayed the potential for a lot of 2-2 votes based on partisan political views. “The issues before us are richly substantive and technical. They’re not political, and I think all of you in the room should have confidence that my colleagues and I will be able to work together to address these difficult issues while we await our fifth colleague to join us,” he said.

The White House has not announced who it intends to nominate to fill the commissioner spot at FERC.

By Tom Tiernan TTiernan@fosterreport.com

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