Early in his tenure at the White House, President* Trump nominated a notorious fossil fuel fan to head up the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Clean power stakeholders were rightfully horrified. And yet, the agency’s renewable energy mission appears to be reasonably intact.
So, what gives? That’s an important question, now that the nominee — Daniel Simmons — has finally been confirmed by the US Senate.
Who Is Daniel Simmons?
For those of you keeping score at home, the head of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy is also an Assistant Secretary of Energy, which is the reason why the post requires Senate confirmation.
Okay, so it’s an important post, which probably means there would be some kind of official announcement or something, right?
Nope. The Senate confirmed Simmons to his position by voice vote on January 2, and so far it’s been radio silence from the Department of Energy. The news only crossed the CleanTechnica radar after an organization called the Alliance to Save Energy broadcasted the news in a statement published on January 3.
If the Department of Energy was impacted by the government shutdown the failure to announce would make sense, except it’s not, so it doesn’t. The agency’s budget for the coming fiscal year was signed, sealed, and delivered last September and its media office has been humming along as usual.
The agency’s @ENERGY Twitter account has been especially busy since January 2.
One particularly interesting highlight was a tweet announcing a new $16 million program to improve climate research.
DOE also tweeted a link back to an October 27 article on the science behind the upside-down world of the hit TV show Stranger Things, they recapped a December 4 item about wind turbine modeling, and they promoted the 10th annual ARPA-E Summit, which isn’t coming up until this July.
That’s just the tip of an eclectic news iceberg over at the DOE media office since January 2. So, why didn’t Daniel Simmons make the cut?
Renewable energy chief gets the cold shoulder
That’s a good question. For now, let’s just say that Simmons is kind of like a guest who shows up uninvited but can’t be told to leave.
The White House tapped Simmons to be the acting head of the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the spring of 2017, apparently without giving Energy Secretary Rick Perry the courtesy of a heads-up.
In a move typical of the Commander-in-Chief’s style, the assignment occurred while Perry was attending to his father’s passing, so there’s that.
The news broke on May 1. As if to signal that the appointment was inappropriate, DOE spent the ensuing days cranking out a flurry of news about its renewable energy initiatives, highlighted by a pitch for hundreds of clean tech licenses owned by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Included in the onslaught was an email blast promoting solar power along with random tweets about renewables including this one:
#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 this one:
Led by #California, U.S. utility-scale #solar generating capacity totaled more than 21.5 gigawatts (GW) in 2016. https://go.usa.gov/x5wWu
DOE never issued a welcome message for Simmons in his acting capacity. The agency also didn’t send up any huzzahs last June, when Trump finally announced that he would nominate Simmons for the permanent position.
In that light, it’s no big surprise that DOE isn’t eager to publicize the results of the January 2 Senate vote.
That might not sound like a big deal, but it’s kind of a big deal. It’s a stark contrast with the welcome mat that DOE rolled out for Daniel R. Brouillette, who was confirmed as Deputy Energy Secretary in August 2017.
What’s So Bad About The New Renewable Energy Chief?
Energy Secretary Rick Perry isn’t shy about rebroadcasting some of Trump’s rhetoric on fossil fuels and climate change, but he has been much more conscientious about fostering his agency’s energy, science, and environmental mandates than, say, his counterparts over at EPA.
Simmons’s history as a hard core fossil fuel advocate and climate change denier certainly doesn’t help in that regard. Our friends over at DeSmog Blog have a rundown on Simmons’s resume that helps explain why Perry would give him the cold shoulder. Here’s a representative snippet:
Prior to joining the Department of Energy, Simmons worked with several Koch-affiliated think tanks, including the Institute for Energy Research (IER), the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and the Mercatus Center.
Most recently (from 2008 to 2017), Simmons worked at IER, a fossil fuel-backed think tank that focuses on “energy analysis and free-market energy and environmental policy.” He was vice president of policy at IER and its lobbying arm, the American Energy Alliance (AEA). In 2015 AEA recommended that Congress eliminate DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. 
On the other hand, in September 2017 our friends over at PV Magazine picked up some interesting signals from Simmons about his intentions at DOE. In an exclusive interview with the magazine he pretty much talked up solar and wind grid integration as a done deal.
In another interesting development, DOE does have a niche where Simmons can be effective without necessarily running afoul of his former employers.
The aforementioned Alliance to Save Energy dropped a big hint in their January 3 statement lauding Simmons’s confirmation. Alliance president Jason Hartke enthused about the office’s energy efficiency mission as a “cost-effective policy tool for reducing pollution:”
…Increasing and accelerating our efforts to save energy should be a top priority. This is a critical job – being in charge of the country’s engine for energy efficiency innovation and overseeing most of our government’s energy efficiency programs…
In particular, the Alliance is looking forward to accelerating DOE’s work on appliance and equipment standards — even if that means spending more taxpayer dollars:
…Looking forward, we’d like to see more progress on efficiency standards, timely and predictable R&D spending, and action to ensure critical programs are fully staffed.”
Go ahead and take a look at the full statement. You won’t find Hartke mentioning the office’s renewable energy mission at all. In fact, the phrase “renewable energy” only comes up when the full title of the office appears.
Also worth noting: NREL, the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is among the Alliance’s long list of associates.
Anyways, it should be a pretty interesting year with Simmons steering the EERE ship. CleanTechnica is reaching out to the Alliance for some additional insights about their support for his confirmation, so stay tuned for more on that.
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Photo (cropped): via NREL.