Energy Secretary Rick Perry's first major study on the electric grid that's due out next week will be much more of a "beginning" to possible grid reforms, rather than a final report of administration policy, a senior Energy Department official told the nation's grid watchdog Thursday.
"This study is not a conclusion, but rather a beginning," said Patricia Hoffman, acting assistant secretary for electric reliability, in prepared remarks before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, during an all-day conference on grid reliability and security.
Her remarks come as a number of environmental and renewable energy groups are waging a lobbying campaign to ensure renewable energy resources aren't under-valued by the study in favor of coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants.
The group Public Citizen, alongside environmental stalwart Sierra Club, told reporters Thursday the study will likely "provide cover for the administration's effort to redesign wholesale power markets to subsidize uneconomic coal, nuclear and natural gas power plants," according to a statement.
"While recommendations are expected from the final report, it is likely that several areas related to reliability will be identified for further research and study," Hoffman said. "Further, our efforts in the area of electricity markets and reliability are meant to provide some additional perspective and to complement existing processes."
Hoffman, while not giving too much away on the conclusions of the much-anticipated grid study, suggested it will attempt to balance the views of two major camps in the electricity sector.
The first camp of "grid experts" are concerned "about the erosion of critical baseload resources," which include coal, nuclear and other power plants that provide the minimal amount of electricity to keep the grid running from one 24-hour period to the next, she said. This camp wants to examine new ways to compensate these "reliable resources."
This camp would include the coal and nuclear utility industry, who are being out-competed by natural gas power plants in the power markets overseen by FERC. But in some markets, like California, the high reliance on solar energy is even driving some natural gas plants to prematurely close because it's too expensive to compete.
At the same time, these fossil fuel plants are needed to keep the grid running even with high numbers of wind and solar, because renewables are intermittent and only generate power when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.
The other camp of experts "believe the evolving grid requires fewer traditional baseload resources," Hoffman said. This camp says more solar panels and wind can keep the grid humming with some assistance from fossil fuel power plants.
"As a nation, we are blessed to have an abundance of domestic energy resources to meet our baseload needs," she added.
President Trump, speaking in Iowa Wednesday night, talked about the grid, where he said renewable energy will be part of an all-of-the-above energy grid, but that it was too unreliable to be considered baseload without fossil fuels also included in the mix.
"I don't want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes and your factory," Trump said at a campaign-style rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
"We use wind. We use solar. We use coal. We use natural gas. We will use nuclear if the right opportunity presents itself," he said. "We're going to be strong for the future."