Department of Energy Week in Review: Release of New Scientific Integrity Policy and Inaugural State of the Labs Report, PetraNova Becomes First Power-Related CCS Project in U.S. to Begin Commercial Operation, and Signing of U.S. and Mexico Bilateral Electric Reliability Principles

It has been a busy week for DOE.  Yesterday, January 11, 2017, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz announced the release of DOE’s Scientific Integrity Policy and the corresponding implementation order.  Stating that “[t]he cornerstone of the scientific integrity policy at DOE is that all scientists, engineers, or others supported by DOE are free and encouraged to share their scientific findings and views,” the policy address the discussion and dissemination of both scientific work and research, and personal opinions on scientific and technical related policies.  The policy was developed in response to the President’s March 9, 2009, Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on Scientific Integrity.  It updates and expands the 2012 Secretarial Policy Statement on Scientific Integrity issued by then-Secretary Chu to include under covered personnel, all “federal staff, including the heads of departmental elements and heads of field elements, scientists and engineers at DOE laboratories and field sites, other contractors who support the R&D mission, and financial assistance recipients.”

Yesterday Secretary Moniz also announced the release of the first Annual Report on the State of the DOE National Laboratories.  The report—which is organized into six themes:  Recognizing Value, Rebuilding Trust, Maintaining Alignment and Quality, Maximizing Impact, Managing Effectiveness and Efficiency, and Ensuring Lasting Change—provides a history of the 17 National Labs and summarizes key activities and accomplishments of each lab.

On Monday, January 9, 2017, Petra Nova, a 240 MW post-combustion carbon capture facility in Fort Bend County, Texas, became the first electric power related CCS plant to begin commercial operations in the United States.  A joint project of NRG Energy, Inc. and JX Nippon Oil & Gas Exploration Corp., Petra Nova is located on the site of WA Parish, an existing coal-fired power plant.  According to NRG’s news release, the plant is the world’s largest post-combustion carbon capture system and is designed to capture more than 90% of the carbon dioxide (CO2) from a 240 MW slipstream of flue gas, equivalent to more than 5,000 tons of CO2 per day.  The captured CO2 will be used to enhance oil production at an oilfield jointly owned by NRG, JX Nippon, and Hilcorp Energy Company.  The Petra Nova project received project management support from DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL), and $190 million in cost-sharing grants as part of DOE’s Clean Coal Power Initiative Program (CCPI).

And last Saturday, January 7, 2017, Secretary Moniz, FERC Chairman Norman Bay, Mexico’s Secretary of Energy Pedro Joaquin Coldwell, Energy Regulatory Commission (CRE) Chairman Guillermo Ignacio García Alcocer, and National Center for Energy Control (CENACE) Director Eduardo Meraz Ateca collectively signed “Principles to Promote the Reliability and Security of the Interconnected Power Systems of the United States of America and the United Mexican States,” a set of 11 non-binding bilateral principles to promote electric reliability of interconnected American and Mexican electricity grids (the Spanish version is available here).  The principles relate to the objectives and challenges for North American energy integration which are described in the second installment of DOE’s Quadrennial Energy Review (QER 1.2).

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As Administration Transitions, President Obama and Executive Agencies Recap Achievements

On January 9, Science Magazine published an online editorial by President Obama entitled “The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy.”  In it, President Obama addresses the decoupling of economic growth from energy sector emissions, private sector initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, power sector markets in which gas prices are currently—and are projected to remain—cheaper than coal, and global momentum to reduce emissions.  President Obama opines that “the trend toward a cleaner power sector can be sustained regardless of near-term federal policies.”

This editorial follows last week’s release of the President’s letter to the American People which discusses his Administration’s achievements and presents a series of exit memoranda written by his Cabinet members, including the heads of EPA, DOE, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.  In those memos, the agency heads present a summary of the agencies’ major actions over the last eight years, “their vision for the country’s future, and the work that remains in order to achieve that vision.”

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s exit memo discusses, among other things, steps that the agency has taken to regulate carbon dioxide and other air emissions from power plants—from issuing the agency’s greenhouse gas (GHG) endangerment finding in 2009 to promulgating the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants and the Clean Power Plan.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s exit memo highlights DOE’s investments in clean energy research and development, in modernizing the electric power grid, and in wind, large-scale solar, advanced nuclear power, and carbon capture and storage technologies.  He also discusses the growth in clean energy sector jobs.  His vision for the future includes doubling investment in clean energy research and development, continuing to diversify America’s energy supplies, and investing in modernizing America’s energy infrastructure.

Exit memos from the Department of the Interior, the Department of Commerce, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy also address the outgoing administration’s energy-related initiatives.  Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s exit memo speaks to the Department’s approval of 60 commercial-scale renewable energy projects on public lands and development of an offshore wind leasing and permitting program.  Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker’s exit memo mentions Commerce’s community-focused Climate Resilience Toolkit, and discusses her belief that “[p]olicymakers can accelerate job growth by providing financial incentives for states to exceed clean energy goals, and by facilitating the creation of new projects, infrastructure, and industries to match regional energy needs and existing industrial ecosystems.”  And Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren’s exit memo mentions the Office’s efforts to advance climate science and information, its $90 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act investment in low carbon energy, and its efforts to address climate change’s impacts on national security.

The 28 Cabinet exit memos can be found here.

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DOE Releases Second Installment of Quadrennial Energy Review

After almost a year of stakeholder engagement, the DOE released the second installment of the Quadrennial Energy Review (QER 1.2).  While the first installment of the QER focused on modernizing the U.S.’s energy infrastructure, QER 1.2 addresses the interrelated issues of national security, environmental protection, and economic development.

The report explains that the electricity system plays a vital role in shaping the economy, the environment, and national security.  While technological advances and increased digitization of the electricity sector provide meaningful benefits, these developments also bring about new vulnerabilities.

QER 1.2 offers 76 wide-ranging recommendations on how to improve the U.S. electricity system while enhancing economic competitiveness, ensuring environmental responsibility, and providing for the nation’s security.  These include expanding federal programs that support state efforts to incorporate distributed energy resources and promoting clean energy research.  The report also recommends grants for small utilities to prepare for cyber, physical, and climate threats.

The QER was established by a Presidential Memorandum.  It is unclear whether it will continue under the new administration.

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AEO2017 Models U.S. Long-Term Energy Projections

The Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its Annual Energy Outlook 2017 (AEO2017) this morning.  In its rollout presentation, EIA explains some key takeaways from AEO2017’s modeling, including: the U.S. becomes a net energy exporter over the period modeled in most cases, U.S. crude oil production increases from recent lows, and natural gas production increases.  AEO2017 sees low natural gas prices and renewable tax credits as drivers of natural gas and renewables as the primary sources of new generation, even if the CPP is not implemented (although the CPP, if implemented, would contribute to the retirement of older, less efficient, fossil fuel-fired units).  AEO2017 also projects that residential and commercial consumption will remain relatively flat or decline slightly because of improved equipment and efficiency standards, despite growth.

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A Look at Costs, Benefits, and Impacts of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS)

In December, DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory released A Prospective Analysis of the Costs, Benefits, and Impacts of U.S. Renewable Portfolio Standards. This study compares three scenarios: (1) a no RPS scenario (RPSs do not exist beyond 2014 and limited economic growth in renewable energy); (2) an existing RPS scenario (assumes RPS requirements continue to grow based on existing state policies as of July 2016); and (3) a high renewable energy scenario (assumes nearly all states adopt aggressive RPSs).  The analysis compares costs (including electric system costs and electricity prices), benefits (in terms of air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and water use), and impacts (to renewable energy workforce requirements, economic development, and natural gas prices).

The analysis finds that benefits exceed costs, even in the highest cost and lowest benefit outcomes.  The study notes its limitations, though; for example, it considers a subset of potential benefits and impacts and has omitted land use and wildlife impacts.

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