DOE Disputes Reports Coal Giant Injected Ideas Into Electric Grid Study

NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MARCH 7, 2014: Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Editorial credit: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com)NATIONAL HARBOR, MD - MARCH 7, 2014: Texas Governor Rick Perry speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). Editorial credit: Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com)

The Department of Energy pushed back against a Bloomberg report Thursday suggesting one of the largest coal producers in the country managed to directly influence the agency’s grid study findings.

There are crucial elements missing from a recent report suggesting emails from Peabody Energy to the DOE show how the coal producer used its clout to influence the grid study, a DOE official told The Daily Caller News Foundation on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the study.

“The meetings with Peabody were driven by ideas about (the Navajo Generation Station). Peabody added a suggestion about what to do with coal as an aside, which added nothing new to the conversation,” the source said, adding that Bloomberg’s report was meant to trash the DOE. The DOE was referring to an email DOE senior adviser Travis Fisher received from Peabody earlier this year.

Bloomberg’s report fleshed out emails Sierra Club obtained through the Freedom of Information Act allegedly showing Fisher sought and received input from Raymond Shepherd, a top Peabody Energy lobbyist in Washington, D.C.

“It occurred to me that the DOE study would be a good way to highlight the inequities in the market and the uneven playing field on which coal plays,” Shepherd, a vice president for governmental affairs, wrote in an April 19 email to Fisher. “On-site fuel storage increases reliability.”

TheDCNF’s source disputed this accounting and claimed the bulk of the email conversation was addressing what, if anything, could be done about a coal power plant in Arizona on the verge of being scuttled. The suggestion about on-site coal storage was made as an additional note.

“There were a lot of emails and input from different groups, including groups that supported carbon emission reductions,” the DOE added. The study does not include the suggestions laid out in the emails – it merely notes some of the risks natural gas and green energy production pose to a free-flowing energy grid.

Bloomberg did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment in time for the publication of this article.

DOE’s study, which agency chief Rick Perry commissioned in April, hashed out recommendations to help strengthen the hodgepodge nature of today’s electric gird. It suggests, for example, developing new technologies helping the electrical grid become more resilient to the intermittency of solar and wind power.

The agency’s report also encourages the Environmental Protection Agency to allow coal-fired power plants to improve efficiency without new regulatory approvals and associated costs weighing down their business models. Perry used the study to justify a call to prop up the coal industry.

He gave the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) a review of a plan to force grid operators to give higher payments to plants with three months of fuel storage, which would apply almost explicitly to coal and nuclear power. Perry, a former Texas senator, contends that the base-power coal helps provides must be protected to help secure the grid.

Most of the coal plant retirements between 2011 and 2015 happened because plant owners chose to shut down rather than invest in expensive instruments required to comply with the EPA’s Clean Power Plan rule that was finalized during former President Barack Obama’s administration.

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Chris White
the authorChris White
Energy Reporter

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