Archive for July, 2011

EIA Study: Clean Power Production Soaring, Policy Costs Falling

Posted By Lowell F. on July 31st, 2011

The Checks and Balances Project has obtained and posted the controversial new study by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), “Direct Federal Financial Interventions and Subsidies in Energy in Fiscal Year 2010.” According to Brendan DeMelle of DeSmogBlog, even the acting Administrator of EIA, Howard Gruenspecht, reportedly called the report “garbage” and “reminded staffers within earshot that the EIA was a government agency that was supposed to do impartial analysis, ‘not provide talking points to members of Congress.'”

Having worked at EIA for more than 17 years, including as a senior economist, I can attest to the integrity of the people who work there, as well as to the value placed on EIA’s independence by its management.  It is with that perspective in mind that I looked through this report.  In doing so, I was struck by several things.

First, EIA was very clear where the request for this report came from — three members of Congress, all of whom have received significant donations over the years from the oil and gas and fossil-fuel-fired electric power industries. In addition, all three of these representatives clearly have pro-fossil-fuel agendas, as you can see from Project Vote Smart’s issue ratings. For instance, Rep. Bartlett and Rep. Chaffetz each received an abysmal, 10% rating from the League of Conservation Voters in 2010, while Rep. Blackburn actually received a zero rating. Clearly, these representatives are no friends of clean energy.

Second, EIA was direct that the way the Congressional inquiry was formulated specifically excluded a number of important government handouts to dirty energy — accelerated depreciation schedules, tax deductions, limits to liability, etc.  The report didn’t even touch the vast amounts of permanent, serious damage to public property and health (“externalities”) caused by  the fossil fuel industries. Including these factors would have made an enormous difference in this study, but EIA was specifically not allowed to consider them.

Third, even with all the restrictions placed on EIA by the three fossil-fuel-friendly representatives, if you closely examine this report, it actually comes out quite well for the major “renewables” — wind, solar, and geothermal.

Take a look at Table ES2 (“Quantified energy-specific subsidies and support by type, FY 2010 and FY 2007) in the EIA report: “renewables” received about $8.5 billion in non-ARRA (one-time-only economic “stimulus” money) “quantified energy-specific subsidies” in 2010. Of that total, however, about $7.6 billion went to biomass or biofuels (e.g, corn ethanol for use as a transportation fuel). As a result, only about $525 million of non-ARRA-related subsidies in 2010 went to solar ($346 million), wind ($134 million) and geothermal ($45 million).


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EIA Head Objected to Politically Dictated “Garbage” Subsidy Report, But Delivers it Anyway

Posted By Lowell F. on July 29th, 2011

By Brendan DeMelle, originally published at; cross-posted with permission of the author.

Stephen Lacey from ClimateProgress on Tuesday detailed a letter sent to the Energy Information Administration (EIA) by three GOP House members asking the EIA to use loaded assumptions in running its models to show that fossil fuels are a better taxpayer investment than renewable energy sources.

These members, each of whom has received campaign funding from fossil fuel interests, essentially requested a report designed to suggest that renewables get huge public subsidies (they don’t) and that government handouts to fossil fuels and nuclear energy are a better deal for taxpayers (they aren’t). It was a blatant attempt to defend oil industry subsidies, and it put EIA in the unenviable position of lending its credibility to the talking points used by the oil, gas and coal industries.

Lacey reported that in a rare moment of sanity in Washington, the report was halted before it was turned over to the GOP requestors. Lacey’s report says that EIA cited “quality assurance” concerns, and would revisit the report to ensure it gives a “full picture,” accurate account of energy subsidies, not a politically driven result.

But “quality assurance” was the kindest way to portray what really happened.

DeSmogBlog has learned from sources familiar with the report’s fate that Howard Gruenspecht, Acting Administrator of the EIA, “hit the roof” when he learned about the assumptions the members had insisted the EIA use to draft the report.  Gruenspecht reportedly called it “garbage” and reminded staffers within earshot that the EIA was a government agency that was supposed to do impartial analysis, “not provide talking points to members of Congress.” Gruenspecht then called a meeting early the following morning at which the decision was made to halt distribution of the report and not give it to the requestors on the due date.

As of this writing, however, DeSmogBlog has learned that the EIA has reversed itself, providing the report to the three Republican House members.

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Fuel Fix: Frackers Subpoenaed by SEC?

Posted By Lowell F. on July 29th, 2011

According to FuelFix, it appears that natural gas “frackers” could face a new obstacle to their expansion, in addition to opposition from communities across America to the threat that fracking poses to water supplies and public health.

A number of lawmakers have called on the Securities and Exchange Commission to investigate aspects of the natural gas E&P business, namely whether companies are reporting the financial viability of shales accurately.

Now, Fuel Fix reports that “the SEC has pulled the trigger,” with “subpoenas seek[ing] documents and information regarding the actual performance of shale gas wells against forecasted or projected performance, the propriety of decline curves for the wells, and the calculation and public disclosure of full-cycle margins.”

This will definitely be a story to keep a close eye on.

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Five Energy Articles We’re Reading Today (7/29/11)

Posted By Lowell F. on July 29th, 2011

Here are five recommended reads for today (7/29/11)

  1. DeSmogBlog writes that the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s acting Administrator, Howard Gruenspecht, “’hit the roof’ when he learned about the assumptions the [Republican House] members had insisted the EIA use to draft the report” on fossil fuels vs. renewables as a taxpayer investment.  DeSmogBlog adds that Gruenspecht called the request “’garbage’ and reminded staffers within earshot that the EIA was a government agency that was supposed to do impartial analysis, ‘not provide talking points to members of Congress.’”
  2. According to Greentechsolar, “Regional markets were, as usual, one of the bigger topics at Intersolar earlier this month in San Francisco.”  The article provides an “overview of some of the observations gleaned from around the globe at the conference.”
  3. ThinkProgress reports, “The Environmental Protection Agency is considering new emissions standards for natural gas fracking operations that would cut smog-forming emissions by 95% in the sector.”
  4. NY City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Sierra Club President Michael Brune have an op-ed at CNN arguing, “Why America has to get off coal.”
  5. The New York Times reports that the oil industry is pressuring the White House with a new smog study in order “to bolster the trade group’s argument that President Obama should stop U.S. EPA from setting stricter limits on ground-level ozone.”
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EIA: Coal Share of U.S. Power Production Hits 30-Year Low

Posted By Lowell F. on July 28th, 2011

According to new data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), it appears that coal may not be “king” for much longer in the U.S. power sector.

The share of electricity generated by coal during the first three months of this year was at its lowest first-quarter level in more than 30 years. The U.S. electric power sector generated about 440 terawatthours (TWh) using coal during the first quarter of 2011, which is 26.5 TWh less than the amount generated during the first quarter of 2010—despite the fact that the overall total level of generation in the United States increased by less than 1%. The amount of coal-fired generation in the first quarter of 2011 corresponds to a 46% share of total generation, which is 3 percentage points lower than the same period last year and 6 percentage points lower than the first quarter of 2008.

What’s replacing all this coal-fired generation in the U.S. power mix? According to EIA, on a year-to-date basis, coal is down about 30 terawatthours (twh) from 2010, while hydroelectricity is up by roughly 31 twh, “other renewables” (the vast majority of the increase is wind, followed by geothermal and solar) are up approximately 11 twh, and natural gas is up about 10 twh.  Even more striking, the longer-term trends for coal and “other renewables” are moving in the opposite directions, with wind generation up about 30-fold since 1998, while coal-fired generation has remained about flat in that same time period (with a decline since the mid 2000’s).  At this point, the question appears to be not so much whether renewables will continue to gain and coal-fired generation will continue to stagnate or fall, but how rapidly will these trends proceed.

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