Blackout on Renewable-Energy Study Called Politically Expedient

WASHINGTON (CN) — Accusing the Trump administration of suppressing politically inconvenient research, environmentalists filed suit Thursday to unearth a taxpayer-funded study on the electricity grid.

The Center for Biological Diversity says it filed a records request on the $1.5 million study in October 2019 after the Department of Energy pulled back the report prepared by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, an independent federal research body,

This Energy Department map shows how new long-distance power lines allow surplus wind and solar power to be shared across the United States. (Image credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory via CNS)

Having heard nothing back from the government, the center has its suspicions on why the the study is being kept under wraps, namely that improvements to grid infrastructure would reduce U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.

“If that were part of the reason why the study’s not being finalized,” attorney Howard Crystal said in an interview, “it would be consistent with what this administration has done in many other contexts where there are facts that run contrary to the administration’s desired policy.”

E&E News spoke to one of the lead researchers on the study in October when the government called for a new analysis.

“My expectation is that [the additional analysis] probably will not change the basic thrust of our conclusions: High-capacity interregional transmission lines, particularly connecting the eastern and western grid compounds, have significant benefits,” James McCalley, an Iowa State University engineering professor, said at the time. (Brackets in original.)

As noted in the article, the study found that interconnecting the three, largely independent, electricity grids stretched out across the U.S. — the Western Interconnection, the Eastern Interconnection and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas — could rake in more than $160 billion in economic gains and bring wind and solar-generated power to high-population areas at a lower cost.

Crystal was critical of reports indicating that the study is now expected to run through 2022. 

“Their way of handling those facts is to suppress them,” Crystal said of the Trump administration. 

“Again we have seen this elsewhere,” he added. “It’s the use of taxpayer funds to have scientists do the work … but then, when the scientists’ results are not something the administration wants, then the public doesn’t get to see it.”

The Center for Biological Diversity filed its complaint in Washington under the Freedom of Information Act. Hundreds of FOIA lawsuits hit the judges’ caseloads in the district every year, causing a backlog that can stall litigation for the release of federal records.

A representative for the Department of Energy declined to comment.

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