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Policy & Politics

Published on May 5th, 2017 | by Tina Casey


Energy Sec’y Rick Perry Hilariously Trolls His Own Deputy With Good News About Renewables

May 5th, 2017 by  

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry has been wearing two hats ever since President Donald J. Trump tapped him to lead the Department of Energy. He’s been toeing the Administration’s fossil fuel line in speech, but all the while his agency has been cranking out a blizzard of press releases and tweets touting renewables and clean tech. That includes a healthy dose of look-backs on past achievements and ongoing programs as well as current events.

Into this storm of contradictions walks Daniel Simmons, a longtime foe of renewables. Earlier this week Trump hit up Simmons to serve as acting head of EERE, the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

It almost seems like Trump reached over Perry’s head to fill the slot. Let’s just say that Perry’s reaction has been…interesting.

Foe Of Renewable Energy Meets All The Good News About Grid-Connected Solar

E&E News broke the news about the Simmons appointment on May 1, and since then it seems like Perry has instructed EERE to fire away with all the good news about renewables.

To take just the most recent example, yesterday the Energy Department tweeted a link to an EERE article about speeding up  connections for rooftop solar panels.

EERE pushed the same article yesterday, in its e-newletter focusing on the SunShot initiative. The newsletter started off with “top news” about the speedy new process that aims to “fast-track the interconnection process and add even more solar to the grid” (the developer is a SunShot awardee, GridUnity — formerly Qado Energy).

Here’s the rundown from EERE:

GridUnity is completely changing the interconnection process with a new platform that can remotely assess a solar project’s impact on the grid. Its platform enables utilities to screen applications more efficiently, allowing them to focus their time and resources on connecting high-impact projects and helping them speed up connection for everyone.

If all this talk about the impact of solar energy on the grid is ringing some bells, it should.

Perry made waves last week when he ordered a national grid study that seems tailored to promote coal at the expense of renewables — before it even gets under way.

CleanTechnica is among the many (many) media organizations and other stakeholders red-flagging the bias.

Considering Perry’s consistent cheerleading for renewables, though, it seems more likely that the grid study will not have any measurable impact on the pace of renewable energy adoption in the US.

Do you get the feeling that Perry’s notorious memo for the new grid study was little more than a meaningless sop to Trump’s base voters? After all, even coal industry executives recognize that the US coal market will never be what it once was.

More Good News About Solar Energy

Yesterday’s email blast also included this observation:

Speaking of speed, the solar industry is growing at a rapid clip and we know where the new jobs are. If you’re looking for a solar research job, apply for the Postdoctoral Research Awards before the end of the month.

The e-newsletter also passed along the following tasty bits:

The latest update on the Solar in Your Community Challenge (170 teams participating!).

A link to a blog post about which states are adding the most solar jobs (the nationwide pace is 1,000 new jobs every week!).

News about five solar companies that won small business vouchers to “help bring the next generation of clean energy technologies to market.”

A solicitation for post-doc researchers to apply to Oak Ridge National Laboratory and be “part of the next generation of scientific leaders in solar energy.”

A pitch for the Solar Power Southeast conference — to be held in Georgia next week — hosted by Solar Energy Industries Association and the Smart Electric Power Alliance.

An invitation to a Clean Energy State Alliance webinar titled Bringing the Benefits of Solar to Low-Income Customers.

Another webinar titled Distributed Solar for Smaller Utilities. Speaking of grid issues, the webinar is hosted by the Distributed Generation Interconnection Collaborative. Attendees will learn how small utilities “shift their business processes, staffing, planning, and operations to incorporate distributed solar into their systems.”

A pitch for the Grid Evolution Summit hosted by the Smart Electric Power Alliance, which “brings together electricity stakeholders to discuss and debate the latest trends, issues, and business developments in the utility industry.”

There’s more, but you get the idea.

More Good News About Everything

That was just EERE’s solar news update from May 4. More pokes at incoming EERE chief Simmons occurred on May 3, when the Energy Department retweeted news about wind energy in Texas…

#Texas is home to nearly 25% U.S. #wind capacity. Wind generated 13% of Texas’s total #electricity 2016. http://go.usa.gov/x5mfJ

…and some news about solar:

Led by #California, U.S. utility-scale #solar generating capacity totaled more than 21.5 gigawatts (GW) in 2016. https://go.usa.gov/x5wWu

On May 3 the Energy Department tweeted about the launch of the 2017 Solar Decathalon.

A tweet on May 2 linked to a collegiate wind competition (won by Penn State, for those of you keeping score at home).

And, on May 1 the agency retweeted a graph illustrating a steep drop in carbon intensity in the power generating sector over the past couple of years under this heading:

#CarbonIntensity of #energy use is lowest in U.S. industrial and electric power sectors https://go.usa.gov/x5EDp #CO2 #electricity

That brings us back to the date when news leaked about Simmons’s new job.

You’d think the Energy Department would welcome him with some good news about coal, but its twitter account (@ENERGY) has been silent on the topic all week.

Stay Tuned…

Secretary Perry has been mourning the death of his father late last month and a memorial service was scheduled for May 2, so it looks like the Trump Administration picked an awkward time to fill a key position in Perry’s agency.

Perry undertook a mini-tour near the end of April touting the success (or lack thereof) of Trump’s first 100 days in office, but the Energy Department has not issued an official welcoming statement for Simmons. Perry’s @SecretaryPerry account has not mentioned the new appointment, either.

So, things should get pretty interesting at the Energy Department. We have questions!

Is it possible that Perry knew of, and even approved, the Simmons appointment?

Did the Trump Administration park Simmons at EERE because they didn’t know what else to do with him?

Is Simmons tasked with pushing back against Perry’s proclivity for pushing clean tech?

What should we make of Perry’s rebirth as an aggressive promoter of government-funded renewable energy projects? Did he really have a change of heart or is he just distracting attention from his history in the nuclear field?

For that matter, is he just trying to bury his history in the women’s health field?

Relatedly, is Perry tooting the renewable energy horn because he knows it will put him in a good position to make another run at the White House?

If you have any answers, drop us a note in the comment thread.

Image (screenshot): US Department of Energy via twitter.com.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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