By Dave Anderson
A new letter asking Congress to end the wind production tax credit has ties to the Institute for Energy Research, a group that has received funding from the fossil fuel and utility industry and is a close ally of the Trump administration.
The Energy and Policy Institute downloaded a pdf of the letter from WindAction.org, an anti-wind website run by the New Hampshire-based Lisa Linowes. A look at the "Document Properties" seemed to identify "Chris Warren" as the "Author" of the file:
An individual named "Chris Warren" worked as the director of communications for the Institute for Energy Research (IER) from June of 2012 to May of 2017, according to Warren's LinkedIn profile. While at IER, Warren worked to oppose the wind PTC.
The Energy and Policy Institute attempted to contact Warren via his LinkedIn account about this new anti-wind letter to Congress, but has not received a response yet.
Robert Bradley, the CEO and founder of IER, promoted the new letter, which he dubbed the "Linowes Letter," in a post on his group's blog MasterResource.org. IER has received funding from fossil fuel and utility interests, including the Koch network, coal producer Peabody Energy, and the Edison Electric Institute. The group also has strong ties to the Trump administration.
"I'm not sure I know who Chris Warren is?" Linowes said in response to an email from the Energy and Policy Institute.
"In any event, a Chris Warren had nothing to do with the letter," she said.
Linowes claimed that she wrote the letter, and that no one helped to draft it.
Shortly after the Energy and Policy Institute emailed Linowes for comment, the pdf of the letter found on WindAction.org was replaced with a new version with "Chris Warren" removed from the "Author" section of the "Document Properties":
Robert Bradley of IER also linked to a related petition posted by Janna Swanson, an Iowa-based anti-wind activist, that's so far been signed by more than 1,100 people.
"The letter that will be sent with this petition to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday Dec.12, 2017 can be seen through this link," according to Swanson's petition, which then provided a link back to the Linowes letter on WindAction.org.
Like an earlier letter from Tom Pyle, the president of IER and its affiliated organization the American Energy Alliance (AEA), the "Linowes Letter" goes beyond attacking the wind PTC, and also opposes a "carve-out" that would save the wind and solar power industry from the harmful Base Erosion Anti-Abuse Tax, or BEAT, provision found in the Senate version of the tax bill.
AEA/IER have a long history of teaming up with anti-wind activists against the wind PTC.
Chris Warren now works as a speechwriter for Texans for Greg Abbott, according to his LinkedIn profile. Warren's new job began around the time that Governor Abbott signed a bill that made wind farms located near military facilities ineligible for property tax exemptions.
Linowes is one of the "Principals" who writes regularly for IER's blog MasterResource.org, and her relationship with IER calls into question claims of independence found in the FAQ section of WindAction.org:
"WindAction is not funded in any way by others in the energy industry including coal, natural gas, nuclear power, or other renewable energy resources; nor are we affiliated with large political activists groups. Support for our efforts is entirely grass roots, coming from diversified environmentalists, energy experts, and ordinary citizens who share our concerns about industrial wind energy development."
IER disclosed a total of $151,625 in expenses for "CONSULTING—RESEARCH AND WRITING" on its IRS 990 for 2016, and another $227,417 for 2015, but did not disclose to whom that money was being paid.
Asked if she has received funding from IER or AEA, Linowes responded, "No."
Members of Congress who receive the "Linowes letter" should know about Linowes' ties to the Institute for Energy Research, and the fossil fuel and utility interests that this group represents.
Dave Anderson is the policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute.
By David Pomerantz
The New York Times reported earlier this month about how utilities around the country, and their trade group the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), have worked to weaken rooftop solar policies in an attempt to stave off the threat to their business model.
The article featured some of Energy and Policy Institute's reporting, including our expose of Brian McCormack, former EEI executive and current Chief of Staff to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, for his role in attacking rooftop solar while at EEI, as well as our uncovering of Florida utilities' deceptive anti-solar ballot initiative in that state last year.
Some important aspects of the story of utilities' efforts did not make it into the Times coverage though:
Upset About EEI? There's a Good Chance You're Funding Them
The Times exposed the central role played by the Edison Electric Institute in driving the utility industry's anti-rooftop solar strategy:
At a January 2016 board meeting of the Edison institute, attended by chief executives of the country's largest utilities, Thomas R. Kuhn, the group's president, counseled against complacency.
"Years, ago, I think a lot of people said, 'That's not going to come to our area,'" he said, according to a recording of his remarks made available by a participant. "And now we see it in each and every state," he said.
"EEI is happy to come to any state at any time," he added. "We have two dozen states we are working on."
If you're angry about EEI, here's some bad news for you: there's a high chance that you're paying the salaries of the trade association's executives.
Our report Paying for Politics detailed how the nation's investor-owned electric utility customers are subsidizing EEI via their bills every month. Investor-owned utilities embed their EEI membership dues into rates, forcing their customers to pay for a policy agenda constructed primarily for the benefit of utilities' shareholders, not their customers. Since most customers have no choice about their utility, there's not much they can do about it.
Despite Efforts, Utilities Cannot Stop Distributed Solar Energy
And here's some better news: The Times story focused on Indiana, where utilities scored a victory when they lobbied to pass a law that would unravel net metering, the policy that dictates how much a utility must pay solar owners for the excess electricity they sell back to the grid. But another state reveals how the utilities' strategy can, and often will, backfire.
In Nevada, utility NV Energy succeeded in 2015 at lobbying regulators to reduce net metering payments. The industry perceived it as a victory that other utilities could learn from—in January 2017, EEI and NV Energy announced that Tony Sanchez, an NV Energy senior vice-president who helped lead the utility's efforts in the net metering debates, was taking on a "key loaned executive" role with EEI.
But while the utility industry celebrated what they thought was a big win for NV Energy, Nevadans became furious at the lost solar jobs and the utility's influence at slowing down the growth of a technology that people from across the political spectrum love. The utility's victory was short-lived. In June 2017, the legislature unanimously passed, and Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval signed, a bill to restore the old net metering rates.
Not only that, but last November, the state's voters passed by a large margin a ballot initiative to break up NV Energy's monopoly entirely—political observers in the state perceive the amendment's success in part as a referendum on NV Energy's unpopularity in the wake of the company's attacks on solar.
The Nevada story should serve as a warning for utilities: In places where they try to attack popular pro-solar policies, a popular backlash risks weakening their political capital with regulators and legislators.
In the long run, utilities have even bigger problems than their political fortunes. Even where they win short-term victories on policies like net metering, the combination of rooftop solar panels plus batteries, which are getting cheaper faster than anyone expected, will enable more and more customers to buy less and less electricity from their utilities. Dave Roberts of Vox recently authored a piece on the topic aptly headlined: Utilities fighting against rooftop solar are only hastening their own doom.
As Roberts writes, quoting a recent McKinsey study:
"In a low-cost storage environment," McKinsey writes, the rate structures utilities are monkeying around with "are unlikely to be effective at mitigating load losses." In other words, customers are still going to keep generating more of their own power.
The Times piece was important to expose how utilities are coming after solar. But it's worth remembering that in the long run, they won't stop distributed renewable energy, and will be better served learning to co-exist with it than to keep fighting it.
Basak Gurbuz Derman / Moment / Getty Images
Your body's immune system is the natural, front line defense to protect you against harmful pathogens and infections. You can boost the effectiveness of your immune system through diet and exercise, but did you know that certain multivitamins can aid your immune system and promote general wellness? Here are our recommendations of the top supplements to help boost your immune system.
What is the Immune System?
There are two main aspects to the immune system: the innate and the adaptive immune system. The innate immune system is one you are born with, and it is the body's rapid response system. It works to attack antigens or invaders in the body. The adaptive or acquired immune system builds antibodies to protect your body from certain microbes, or germs, it encounters in the environment.
Did you know that your immune system keeps track of each germ it has ever defeated? This way, if your body encounters a germ it has fought in its immune system before, it can recognize and protect your body from it more effectively.
Your immune system's memory of the germs it encounters is stored in white blood cells. The white blood cells move through the blood and tissue in your body and attack harmful invaders such as viruses and bacteria.
Fortunately, you can support and improve the effectiveness of your immune system by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol in moderation, and getting a proper amount of sleep. Taking melatonin can help you get better sleep, which will in turn support immune health.
A daily vitamin subscription is a great way to promote overall wellness, which includes your immune system. Your skin also plays a role in your immune system, and you can take certain vitamins and supplements for dry skin to help it stay hydrated and healthy. Additionally, the microbiome found in your digestive system is important to proper immune function. Probiotics and digestive enzymes can both help improve your digestion and boost your immune system.
Our Top 5 Supplements to Boost Immune Health
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. You can learn more about our review methodology here. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
- Best Overall - Nested Naturals Elderberry Gummies
- Best Vitamin Bites for Immune Health - GEM Immunity Support
- Best Probiotic for Immune Health - Care/of Pocket Protector
- Best Gummies for Immune Health - Bulletproof Immune Gummies
- Best Immune Spray - Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray
- Best for Vitamin C - NutraOne Immune One
- Best Zinc Supplement - Global Healing Liquid Zinc
- Best Herbal Option- Vital Plan Daily Herbal Supplement
Vitamins and Minerals that Support the Immune System
It's no secret that certain vitamins and supplements can aid your immune system to fight off potentially harmful infections. Here are some that stand out.
- Elderberry: There are around 30 different types of elder plants and trees globally. Sambucus nigra is the type that helps with healing and immune health. Elderberry consists of many vitamins and antioxidants.
- Vitamin C: Your body doesn't naturally produce Vitamin C. However, it has proven to have immense health benefits. Vitamin C helps the immune system's white blood cell production.
- Zinc: This supplement helps produce new immune system cells in your body.
- Vitamin D: Vitamin D helps to regulate the body's immune system.
- Vitamin E: This antioxidant is fat-soluble and helps protect cells from harmful 'free radicals' which are unstable atoms that can cause damage to cells; this response can lead to illness.
- Reishi mushrooms: There are three molecules in reishi mushrooms that are responsible for their health effects: triterpenoids, polysaccharides, and peptidoglycans. Studies have found that reishi mushrooms may be able to change the inflammation pathways in white blood cells.
Best Overall: Nested Naturals Elderberry Gummies
These Nested Naturals Elderberry gummies include a vegan blend of vitamin C and Zinc to ensure thriving immune health. The blend of elderberry extract, vitamin C, and zinc can also provide wellness during travel and during the change of seasons.Why buy: We like these Elderberry gummies because they contain around 100 mg of elderberry extract per gummy, and are vegan, gluten-free, and go through a four-part lab testing process. They also taste great and contain less than a gram of sugar each.
Best Vitamin Bites for Immune Health: GEM Immunity Support
GEM Immunity Essentials daily vitamin bites are an easy and delicious way to help boost your immune system. Each vitamin bite is made with real food ingredients including turmeric, pumpkin seeds, black pepper, chicory root, ginger root, stone fruit, oranges, and lemons.
Why buy: We love that these GEM vitamin chews provide a complete immune-boosting vitamin profile from natural, plant-based ingredients. GEM also offers a sustainable subscription model that sends you a reusable tin with your first order and refills in compostable pouches.
Best Probiotic for Immune Health: Care/of Pocket Protector
Care/of Pocket Protector is a travel-ready probiotic powder that allows you to boost your immune system anywhere, anytime. It contains 3 billion CFUs of good bacteria strains for your gut to help support proper immune system functioning.
Why buy: We like that this probiotic powder is designed for on-the-go immune support, and that it comes in a red berry flavor. This immune-boosting probiotic powder is also non-GMO, gluten-free, and vegetarian.
Best Gummies for Immune Health: Bulletproof Immune Gummies
If you don't like swallowing pills or powders, try these Bulletproof Immune Gummies instead. They contain key nutrients like vitamin C, zinc, elderberry extract, and echinacea extract to support your immune system in a sugar-free Raspberry and Elderberry flavor.
Why buy: We like that these vitamin gummies for immune support contain high concentrations of vitamin C and zinc. They are also vegan and sugar-free, with only 5 calories per gummy, but taste great from natural flavors and stevia-leaf extract.
Best Immune Spray: Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray
A unique way to boost your immune system, Beekeeper's Naturals B.Immune Throat Spray harnesses the power of bee propolis extract. This is a substance bees make out of tree and plant resins to help protect their hive from germs and infections, and it contains over 300 different nutrients, antioxidants, and minerals.
Why buy: We like that this spray offers a fast and natural way to help enhance your immune system. You can also use it to soothe a sore throat. It's made from all-natural ingredients and is certified keto and paleo-friendly.
Best for Vitamin C: NutraOne ImmuneOne
5 Star Nutrition has an array of quality vitamins, minerals, and supplements. For immune health, we recommend the ImmuneOne supplement. It's formulated with vitamin C, elderberry, and echinacea to help improve overall wellness, with the added benefit of supporting lung health.Why buy: ImmuneOne includes 1000 mg of vitamin C, as well as elderberry, Zinc, and vitamin A. We like that this supplement is made with natural ingredients like cinnamon, echinacea, and ginseng, without any artificial additives.
Best Zinc Supplement: Global Healing Liquid Zinc
Every cell in your body uses Zinc, and it's an effective mineral to boost your immune system. It also helps the digestive system, and even encourages cell growth. Zinc is also great for skin complexion, sexual health, and supporting normal blood sugar.
Why buy: Global Healing Plant-Based Zinc is vegan, certified USDA organic, gluten-free, and is not tested on animals. We like that this Zinc is plant based and all natural. The Zinc is extracted from organic guava leaves, and comes with a one-year money-back guarantee.
Best Herbal Option: Vital Plan Daily Herbal
The Daily Herbal blend by Vital Plan is a unique herbal supplement created by Dr. Bill Rawls. His formula "works at the cellular level to address the modern-day stress factors associated with accelerated aging." The blend includes medicinal mushrooms, as well as Rhodiola and Turmeric extract.Why buy: Daily Herbal includes five adaptogenic ingredients designed to support cell resilience, immune response, and microbiome balance. It can also boost energy and endurance because of the Rhodiola extract. The product is gluten and dairy free, and is also tested at a third-party lab for ingredient purity verification.
How to Choose an Immune Supplement or Multivitamin
There are a few key aspects to look out for when shopping for immune supplements. Below is a list of what to look for when shopping for a supplement to help boost your immune system.
What to Look For
When comparing different brands of immune supplements, look for these things before you buy.
Clinical Research: Many immune supplements will inform you if they're clinically researched formulas, or formulated by doctors.
Transparency: Some supplement brands list all of the vitamins and minerals they use in the formula of their supplement. It's important to know exactly what you're ingesting, and where it came from.
Lab Testing: To guarantee what you're consuming is pure, and safe, look too see if a brand had their product tested at a third-party lab.
Non-Artificial Ingredients: Immune supplements with natural, non-artificial ingredients that are plant-derived or organic are always a good choice. If the brand uses animal products, check to see that they are sourced ethically and sustainably.
How to Read Labels
When reading the label of your supplement, be sure to notice the serving size. Oftentimes, the recommended serving size for a supplement is larger than simply taking one capsule or multivitamin. Some labels will specify the best time of day to take the supplement as well. Also take note of the ingredient list, and how much of the recommended daily intake it fulfills for certain vitamins and nutrients
It's also important to double check that the supplement was tested in a third-party lab for safety and quality. Note if the supplement is non-GMO, vegan, or gluten free. Many supplements will also tell you if it is free from certain allergens like soy and dairy.
Safety & Side Effects
Ingesting the right oral immune boosting supplements may be beneficial to your overall health. However, there are a few minor side effects to be aware of. Some common side effects of immune boosting supplements may include:
- Intense abdominal pain
Other, infrequent side effects may include:
- Pain in arms or legs
- Chest pain
- Abdominal bloating
Sometimes, when certain vitamins are ingested without food can cause stomach pain. Be sure to read the label to see if you should take an immune supplement with food and to be sure that you do not take more than the recommended amount. Most side effects from vitamin supplements are a result of taking too much at one time.
Certain vitamin and mineral supplements can interact with prescription medications. If you take prescription medicines, or are undergoing prescribed treatment for a condition, consult with your doctor before taking any additional supplements.
There are number of ways to help boost wellness and support a healthy immune system, and adding an extra immune-boosting supplement may help. Use our guide to find the best multivitamin or supplement to boost your immune system, and learn whether or not you should consider a supplement for immune health.
Audrey Nakagawa is the content creator intern at EcoWatch. She is a senior at James Madison University studying Media, Art, and Design, with a concentration in journalism. She's a reporter for The Breeze in the culture section and writes features on Harrisonburg artists, album reviews, and topics related to mental health and the environment. She was also a contributor for Virginia Reports where she reported on the impact that COVID-19 had on college students.
By Dave Anderson
Christopher Wray, President Trump's nominee for FBI director, advised corporate clients on how to avoid "being in the crosshairs" of law enforcement at a 2015 legal forum where investigations by state attorneys general into whether ExxonMobil misled investors and the public about climate change were a topline issue.
Wray's law firm later pitched clients on its ability to help corporations "vigorously contest" such investigations in response to the 2016 launch of a coalition of 17 state attorneys general aimed at pursuing similar legal efforts around climate change. The firm's clients have included ExxonMobil and other powerful fossil fuel interests.
Trump Fires FBI Director James Comey: What's Exxon Got to Do With It? https://t.co/0lx4gb1glF @350 @DeSmogBlog @Exxon_Knew #ComeyFiring— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1494423715.0
First, some quick background on the issues at play, followed by some details on the involvement of Wray and his law firm.
Wray once led federal corporate fraud investigations, but then he switched sides
President Trump described his new nominee for FBI director as "a man of impeccable credentials" in a tweet. Wray's credentials include a 2003-2005 stint as assistant attorney general for the U.S. Department of Justice, where he oversaw corporate fraud investigations, helped to take down Enron and contributed to national security efforts after 9/11.
After Wray left the Department of Justice in 2005, he switched sides and joined the corporate law firm King & Spalding, which has consistently ranked as a "White Collar Group of the Year." He's since defended big corporations against investigations by U.S. attorneys general offices around the country.
Wray's law firm has defended powerful fossil fuel interests in climate change litigation
King & Spalding successfully defended Chevron in Native Village of Kalina v. ExxonMobil, a case where a community of Alaska Natives sought compensation for the cost of relocating their coastal village due to flooding and erosion caused by climate change. The community and others like it still remain stranded in the path of rising waters, without the financial resources necessary to relocate once again.
DesmogBlog has previously reported on some of the firm's broader other clients in the fossil fuel industry, which have included ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil, Occidental Petroleum, Peabody Energy and Shell. Other clients have included ExxonMobil and the Russian oil companies Gazprom and Rosneft.
The firm's client list is of interest given the current scrutiny of the Trump administration's ties to Russia. For example, Sec. of State Rex Tillerson established a long-term relationship with Rosneft while CEO of ExxonMobil. In addition, some members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate have called on the Department of Justice to investigate ExxonMobil's record of deception on climate change based on the same authority it previously used to take on the tobacco industry.
Why Was Tillerson Present at Signing of Major Exxon Deal With Saudi Arabia? https://t.co/Sbd9p3hw4M @IMPL0RABLE @NeverTrumpPAC— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1496179209.0
The FBI's role in the ExxonMobil climate change investigations
In 2016, a letter from the Department of Justice informed members of Congress that it had forwarded their request for a federal investigation into whether ExxonMobil may have violated the law by "failing to disclose truthful information to investors and the public regarding climate science" to the FBI.
"The FBI will determine whether an investigation is warranted," the 2016 letter from DOJ said.
More than half a million Americans also petitioned the Department of Justice to investigate the oil and gas producer. The calls came after it was revealed that ExxonMobil knew about the possible risks that carbon dioxide emissions resulting from use of its products—fossil fuels—posed to the earth's climate, long before it spearheaded a decades long campaign of climate denial.
The FBI has been silent on the issue since then, and prospects of a federal investigation into ExxonMobil's climate deception dimmed when Trump chose Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as U.S. attorney general. While in the Senate, Sessions joined a letter to the Department of Justice that opposed such an investigation.
Wray offered clients legal advice at a 2015 forum on the ExxonMobil investigations
The December 2015 forum, "From Climate Change to Anti-Corruption: The Energy Sector in the Crosshairs of Government Enforcement," that was hosted by King & Spalding was largely framed as a response to these investigations.
Wray topped the list of speakers , which also included several other attorneys from his firm.
A January of 2016 Client Alert, "State Attorneys General Investigations and Enforcement: What to Expect in 2016," sent by King & Spalding confirms that the forum:
"…discussed New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's investigation into ExxonMobil's securities disclosures and their connection to climate change issues, among other recent energy-related investigations."
Wray's advice at the December 2015 forum was quoted in the same Client Alert that King & Spalding sent out the following month:
"When you see a competitor announce in their disclosure that they've got an investigation, whether it's with a state AG, the SEC, the Justice Department or all of the above, immediately start trying to figure out as much as you can about what they are dealing with and start asking yourself questions internally: Is there any chance at all we could have a problem like that since they're in the same industry in the same place? Is there something we ought to do ... so that we don't end up being in the crosshairs?"
"In this way, companies can identify areas where the government is likely to investigate and proactively move to improve and reinforce compliance in those critical areas," the client alert then concluded, based on Wray's remarks.
But Wray's law firm later offered clients the ability to "vigorously contest" such investigations
Spalding & King soon followed up with an April 2016 Client Alert, "State AGs Announce Climate Change Investigations," that closed with a sales pitch:
"King & Spalding has been at the forefront in representing clients who have found themselves the targets of state AG investigations or claims for almost 30 years. Our experience with state AG investigations began in the 1980s with our representation of Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company and continues through to today representing clients in many industries, including energy companies. King & Spalding's State Attorneys General Practice is jointly led by our government investigations and public policy groups, and is supported by our strategic alliance with former Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen.
We always do what we can to help clients avoid or minimize the impact of state Attorneys General investigations and litigation whenever possible, but we are not afraid to vigorously contest those investigations when appropriate or to try cases when necessary. We are also adept at engaging with the media directly or in coordination with communications personnel and/or consultants."
The April 2016 client alert came from King & Spalding's Special Matters and Government Investigations Practice Group, which Wray had chaired since 2006. Wray was not explicitly named in the April client alert, as he was named in the earlier January alert.
King & Spalding's April 2016 alert came shortly after the launch of the coalition of 17 state attorneys general that significantly raised the stakes for ExxonMobil.
"The participating states are exploring working together on key climate change-related initiatives, such as ongoing and potential investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public on the impact of climate change on their businesses," according to a press release from Schneiderman's office.
King & Spalding's April 2016 client alert also questioned the motives of these state attorneys general. It cited information obtained through a public records request submitted to the Vermont attorney general's office by the Energy and Environment Legal Institute (E&E Legal) in an attempt to stir up political controversy around the investigations. E&E Legal is a climate denial outfit with ties to the Trump administration and is known for its use of public records requests to harass real climate scientists.
In 2015, E&E Legal received funding from coal producer Peabody Energy. That same year, the Peabody Energy reached a settled with Schneiderman after an investigation into the coal company's "misleading statements" to investors on climate change.
Wray is not the first Trump nominee to have weighed in on the issue
Corporate attorney Jay Clayton worked for a law firm that advised clients to comply with guidance on climate change disclosure from the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) after Schneiderman announced his investigation of ExxonMobil's disclosures. News broke that the SEC had launched a related investigation into ExxonMobil's climate accounting practices in September of 2016.
Clayton is now serving in the Trump administration as chairman of the SEC. During his Senate confirmation hearing, Clayton advised that corporations should continue to be "mindful" of the SEC's guidance on climate change disclosure:
Similar questions could arise at Wray's confirmation hearing, though those are likely to be dominated by questions about the FBI's ongoing investigation into Russian influence over the 2016 election.
State attorneys general will continue to lead the investigations into ExxonMobil's record on climate change
There is no reason to believe that any real federal investigation of ExxonMobil's climate change disclosures, or those of other companies, will occur while Trump is in the White House. The Trump administration has, with few exceptions, generally followed the fossil fuel industry's lead by rolling back key U.S. climate change policies that have long been opposed by ExxonMobil and its political allies.
State attorneys general will continue to lead the charge on holding companies like ExxonMobil accountable when they deceive investors and the public about climate change risks, and recent trends indicate forward thinking shareholders will do the same.
By Dave Anderson
Travis Fisher, a Trump political appointee in the Department of Energy, wrote a 2015 report for the Institute for Energy Research that called clean energy policies "the single greatest emerging threat" to the nation's electric power grid, and a greater threat to electric reliability than cyber attacks, terrorism or extreme weather.
Fisher is now leading up a controversial grid study ordered by Sec. of Energy Rick Perry under the pretense of ensuring the long-term reliability of the nation's electricity supply. If Fisher's past writings on the topic are any indication, the forthcoming DOE study is sure to be a thinly veiled attack on renewable energy aimed at propping up outdated coal and nuclear power plants that can't compete in today's electricity market.
Rick Perry's grid study sounds strikingly similar to the one Travis Fisher wrote for fossil fuel interests in 2015.
Trump's Koch-Funded Appointees Continue Ruthless Attack on Clean Energy Growth https://t.co/4NsyZRlOqW @ALECExposed @prwatch— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1495316707.0
In his February 2015 report for the Institute for Energy Research (IER), Fisher attacked wind and solar power as "unreliable" sources of electricity. That same year, IER and its lobbying arm, the American Energy Alliance (AEA), together received millions of dollars from foundations affiliated with the Koch brothers, who have bankrolled an all out campaign to roll back state and federal clean energy policies.
In a 2016 bankruptcy filing, coal producer Peabody Energy also disclosed that it contributed $50,000 to IER in 2015. Fisher wrote in his 2015 IER report:
"The single greatest threat to reliable electricity in the U.S. does not come from natural disturbances or human attacks. Rather, the host of bad policies now coming from the federal government—and unfortunately from many state governments—is creating far greater and more predictable problems with grid reliability."
He also offered this overview:
"New stresses on the electricity delivery system are coming primarily from two types of policies: 1) Regulations that directly shut down reliable sources of electricity, such as coal and nuclear power, and 2) Subsidies and mandates that force increased amounts of unreliable sources of electricity on the grid, such as wind and solar power, and undermine the normal operation of reliable power plants. Together, these two types of policies create a much less reliable grid and increase the chances of a major blackout."
A strikingly similar narrative appeared in the memorandum from Perry, who also serves on President Trump's National Security Council, which ordered a new DOE study on grid reliability be prepared in just 60 days:
"Baseload power is necessary to a well-functioning electric grid. We are blessed as a nation to have an abundance of domestic energy resources, such as coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric, all of which provide affordable base load power and contribute to a stable, reliable and resilient grid. Over the last few years, however, grid experts have expressed concerns about the erosion of critical baseload resources.
Specifically, many have questioned the manner in which baseload power is dispatched and compensated. Still others have highlighted the diminishing diversity of our nation's electric generation mix, and what that could mean for baseload power and grid resilience. This has resulted in part from regulatory burdens introduced by previous administrations that were designed to decrease coal-fired power generation. Such policies have destroyed jobs and economic growth, and they threaten to undercut the performance of the grid well into the future.
Finally, analysts have thoroughly documented the market-distorting effects of federal subsidies that boost one form of energy at the expense of others. Those subsidies create acute and chronic problems for maintaining adequate baseload generation and have impacted reliable generators of all types."
Perry's memorandum included a specific order to examine, "The extent to which continued regulatory burdens, as well as mandates and tax and subsidy policies, are responsible for forcing the premature retirement of baseload power plants." Perry's words since his memorandum serve as a further reminder of the undue influence of IER and AEA over the Trump administration's energy policies, made possible by AEA's loyal support for Donald Trump during the 2016 election. Perry recently revealed the Trump administration's half-baked and "highly classified" plan to preempt state and local energy policies in the name of national security.
Travis Fisher targeted state and federal clean energy policies for repeal
The clean energy policies that Fisher targeted for repeal in his 2015 study for IER provide some clues about the possible identity of the "mandates and tax and subsidy policies" to which Perry made vague reference in his memo. These included a mix of state and federal policies designed to increase the use of renewable energy, as well as reduce carbon dioxide and mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Fisher specifically recommended that policymakers repeal:
• The Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan and Mercury and Air Toxics Standards
• The federal Production Tax Credit for wind power
• State renewable energy standards
• Net metering incentives for rooftop solarThese are the sort of clean energy policies that have long been targeted for repeal by IER and AEA and their backers in the fossil fuel industry. Beyond Capitol Hill, a similar study with DOE's stamp could reignite failed attacks against renewable energy policies in states like Ohio, where IER and AEA's misleading reports have failed the smell test.
Fisher also referenced "bureaucratic hurdles" at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which he claimed has contributed to closure of "reliable" nuclear power plants. He pointed to the NRC as a factor in the closing of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, but failed to mention the plant had been plagued by problems in recent years, including a cooling tower collapse and radioactive tritium leak.
Despite all the doomsday scenarios of electricity blackouts thrown into Travis Fisher's 2015 grid study for IER, he never named a single example where one of these clean energy policies actually caused the lights to go out. Most of these policies had been on the books for years, without causing the sorts of blackouts that Fisher predicted for the near future. Real world experience has proven beyond any reasonable doubt that grid operators and utilities can comply with clean energy policies, while also providing a reliable supply of electricity.
After all, a total of 29 states have renewable energy standards and 39 states have net metering on the books. The Production Tax Credit for wind power has been around since 1992. Utilities have already been complying with the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standard. During the 1970's, electric utilities like American Electric Power ran ads that made the same sort of "doomsday predictions" about the Clean Air Act. In February 2015, the EPA responded to similar attacks on the Clean Power Plan by pointing out that "at no time in the more than 40 years that EPA has been implementing the Clean Air Act has compliance with air pollution standards resulted in reliability problems."
Fisher should heed his own advice
"Heed the advice of grid experts, such as the electrical engineers at NERC, FERC, utilities and regional transmission organizations," Fisher recommended at the end of his 2015 study for IER. What the grid gurus have told us over and over again is that renewable energy is reliable, and we can use much more of it in the years to come using the tools and technologies that are available today. Plus, clean energy policies generate cleaner electricity and a host of co-benefits. For example, previous analyses of state renewable energy standards by two of DOE's national labs have powered new jobs and reduced carbon dioxide and other harmful air pollutants, all at little to no additional cost to consumers. Rick Perry has praised those labs as national scientific and engineering treasures.
Travis Fisher downplayed real threats to the power grid
"Extreme weather places immense stress on the electricity system," Fisher admitted in his 2015 grid study for IER. "In fact, bad weather remains the number one cause of power outages." Fisher's own words exposed his all-too-obvious attempt to mischaracterize clean energy policies as "the single greatest threat to reliable electricity," as he put it.
Meanwhile, DOE published a 2015 report that identified the ways that extreme weather and climate change threaten reliable electricity in every region of the U.S. A total of 8.5 million people lost power during 2012's Hurricane Sandy. The impact of that storm was strengthened by climate change. Long lines formed at gas stations as people sought fuel to power backup generators. Yet Fisher made no mention of Hurricane Sandy in his 2015 IER study. In fact, he avoided any mention of the threat that climate change poses to the electric grid. He instead focused on his attacks on the Clean Power Plan, which set the first-ever national limits on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants that contribute to climate change.
Fisher even mixed in the sort of rhetoric common among the network of fossil fuel funded climate skeptics that IER and AEA are a part of. "The problem with calling it the 'Clean Power Plan' is that carbon dioxide is not dirty but rather a clean, odorless gas," Fisher wrote. To his credit, Fisher did mention that coal and natural gas can face challenges during periods of extreme cold. He focused on how the Polar Vortex disrupted the natural gas market as demand spiked. However, like many coal backers, Fisher either missed or ignored the fact that coal-fired power plants accounted for 26 percentage of outages in the ERCOT and Eastern Interconnections. He also neglected to mention that record wind power had saved electric utility customers money during recent periods of extreme cold.
Fisher also downplayed the threat posed by cyber, electromagnetic pulse, or terrorist attacks on the nation's power supply. He suggested the threat of U.S. retaliation served as an effective deterrent effect against attacks on the nation's power grid. He acknowledged one real world example in San Jose, where quick action by the local utility averted a blackout after a 2014 sniper attack on a power substation.
However, Fisher ignored the 9/11 terrorist attacks of 2011. While terrorists' primary target in New York was the World Trade Center, the attack also knocked out power to Lower Manhattan and destroyed two power substations. More than 2,000 Con Edison employees eventually restored power after they laid down 36 miles of emergency cable to bring electricity back to the impacted area. Initial estimates by Con Edison put the cost of repairs at $400 million. Fisher didn't deny that extreme weather and "human attacks," as he called them, posed significant threats, but he did mischaracterize clean energy policies as an even greater threat to the power grid.
Travis Fisher supported new infrastructure to benefit fossil fuels, but not for renewable energy
The 2015 grid study that Fisher wrote for IER also included support for escalating new oil and gas pipelines by overcoming what he described as "permitting delays" at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and at the state level. Many environmentalists view FERC as a "rubber stamp" for pipelines, a concern that's only increased since President Trump named his nominees to the commission. Fisher even threw in a pitch for the Keystone XL pipeline, even though oil provides less than one percent of U.S. electricity.
He claimed that reliance on railroads to move tar sands oil meant that less rail capacity was available to transport coal and other things. Fisher wrote that use of fossil fuels was limited by a lack of infrastructure, and he was happy to spend other people's money to fix it. Not so for renewable energy. Fisher argued that the grid should not be updated to integrate more wind and solar power. "In other words, the incompatibility of wind and solar power on the grid is not a major drawback of the grid," Fisher said. "Rather, it is a major drawback of these sources of power." Fisher encouraged government to engage in the very behavior that he and his "free market" allies in the Koch world routinely disparage: picking winners and losers in the energy market.
Travis Fisher is loyal to fossil fuel interests and powerful political donors
Travis Fisher is the subject of one edition of the John William Pope Foundation's "achiever spotlight," which highlights "the lives of individuals who have achieved much, thanks in large part to the generosity of nonprofits and organizations supported by the Foundation." The foundation is led by Art Pope, a financier of right wing causes who plays an outsized role in North Carolina politics. Among the causes Pope has funded: climate denial and attacks on clean energy policies. As a college student at North Carolina State University in 2006, Travis Fisher was enrolled in the school's program on Economic, Legal and Political Foundations of Free Economies, a beneficiary of Pope's largesse. He was also a research intern at the John Locke Foundation, which was launched by Pope during the 1990s and has received money from the Koch brothers, where he worked on "policy alternatives" on issues that included the environment.
The group would later use Fisher's work for IER and AEA to support its attacks on North Carolina's renewable energy standard. After college, Fisher landed a job as an economist at FERC during the summer of 2006. After seven years at the commission, he decided to take a job at IER in 2013. Fisher later shared his thinking on energy policy with the John William Pope Foundation.
"It seems conventional wisdom that government should get more involved in energy," Fisher said in his achiever spotlight on JWPF.org. "It's counter intuitive [sic] to argue that government should get out of energy. But I like the challenge."
Who paid for Travis Fisher to serve on Trump's Department of Energy landing team?
A list of landing team members on GreatAgain.gov, the Trump transition team's website, disclosed Fisher's "current or most recent employer" as IER, but did not list AEA—even though Fisher is listed as an "IER economist" and "AEA economist" on the groups' respective websites. The transition team website also listed "funding source: private" for Fisher, while some other landing team members were identified as volunteers. The site did not disclose the private source of Fisher's funding.
A separate financial disclosure filed by Fisher and published by The Intercept also disclosed his employment by IER, but not AEA. He also disclosed "Employment Assets and Retirement Plans," which included his IER salary and related 401K, as well as his participation in the "Charles Koch Industries 401K." In a section below titled, "Filer Employer Agreements and Arrangement," Fisher disclosed to continue to participate in both 401K plans, but specified that both IER and the "Charles Koch Institute" would no longer make contributions. A Google search revealed no previous record of Fisher's employment with the Charles Koch Institute.
Just the latest sign of IER, AEA influence over Trump
It's no coincidence that, now that Donald Trump is in the White House, some of the same clean energy policies that Fisher targeted for attack in his 2015 grid study for IER are now being rolled back. As a candidate, Donald Trump was one of only two Republicans who responded to an AEA questionnaire. In his response to a question about the Clean Power Plan, Trump pledged that "all EPA rules will be reviewed." Trump also pledged to rescind the Clean Power Plan while in the campaign trail.
During the Trump transition, an IER-AEA memo from the desk of Tom Pyle, which was obtained by the Center for Media & Democracy, predicted that the Clean Power Plan would be withdrawn by the Trump administration—even if courts upheld the rule. Pyle, IER and AEA soon got their wish. Trump signed an executive order that began the process of reviewing the Clean Power Plan during his first 100 days in the White House. His administration also hit the pause button on the EPA's legal efforts to defend the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, another target of Fisher's 2015 IER report, in court.
With Fisher at the helm, the DOE grid study ordered by Rick Perry could serve as a convenient excuse when the Trump administration's "review" of the Clean Power Plan culminates in a real plan to "suspend, revise or rescind" the rule. It could also be used to justify attempts by the Trump administration to preempt state and local clean energy laws, though any such effort would face an uphill battle. Finally, the new DOE grid study could be used to reignite efforts to rollback renewable energy standards and net metering incentives at the state level. In any case, clean energy supporters will have no shortage of evidence at the ready to debunk any erroneous claims made by Fisher, and make the case that renewable energy is affordable, reliable and benefits our economy and the environment.
By David Pomerantz
The Nevada Assembly passed a bill Wednesday that would dramatically increase the growth of renewable energy in the state, but Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and major donor to Donald Trump, is attempting to prevent the bill from becoming law.
The bill, AB 206, would ensure that Nevada gets 80 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2040. AB 206 passed the assembly with bipartisan support by a margin of 30 to 12, but it must now pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Adelson owns the Las Vegas Sands casino giant, and is known in national political circles for the massive amounts of money he has plowed into Republican coffers; he spent $100 million in the 2012 election cycle, and then donated $35 million to the super PAC that supported Donald Trump's general election campaign last year, plus another $5 million to Trump's inauguration.
Given Adelson's support for conservative politicians, clean energy supporters considered it a happy coup in 2016 when the Sands Corporation threw money behind a ballot initiative that would allow electric customers to defect from the monopoly utility NV Energy.
Sands was the biggest bankroller of the committee that backed the ballot initiative, Nevadans for Affordable, Clean Energy Choices. The company didn't shy away from saying that their support for the initiative was motivated by a desire to use electricity from cleaner sources than NV Energy had on offer, garnering it fawning press in Nevada and globally.
"… The company maintains a strong desire to purchase and use the cleanest and most cost efficient energy available on the open market," a Sands spokesperson said in a statement about its support for the ballot initiative.
Adelson Pulls a Bait and Switch on Renewable Energy
Now, however, it's clear that while Adelson may want Sands to have the ability to defect from NV Energy, his motives were not as green as advertised last year.
Sands testified last month against AB 206, along with Wynn Resorts and the Nevada Resort Association (NRA). Why would Adelson, who spent all of 2016 saying that he wanted Sands to power with renewable energy, now be lobbying against legislation to move Nevada in that very direction?
The answer is likely that the bill language not only holds NV Energy to the increased renewable energy standard, but also any companies that defect from the utility, which could soon be Sands.
Adelson seems to want to maintain his company's unfettered ability to buy not only renewable energy, but also as much natural gas as he wants, for as long as he wants, as well.
"We feel that this just isn't the time to codify these mandates," Sands lobbyist Chase Whittemore said about the bill, according to the Nevada Independent. NV Energy also fought the bill, introducing unsuccessful amendments to neuter it.
Is Adelson Funding a New Dark Money Group to Kill Nevada Renewable Energy Growth?
The lobbying against AB 206 by Sands, Wynn, the Resort Association and NV Energy did not seem to slow down the bill's progress in the assembly, but the casino operators and NV Energy may have another trick up their sleeves: a new dark-money group is making a final two-week push to kill the bill in the Senate or on Gov. Sandoval's desk. The Independent reported this week:
"A new nonprofit that does not disclose its donors plans to spend six figures in the last two weeks of the Legislature to try to defeat a renewable energy measure opposed by most gaming companies."
The non-profit, called "Secure Nevada's Future," registered with Nevada as a non-profit organization in April, listing Texas as its qualifying state. Its list of officers is due May 31. The group seems to have a Facebook page which also became active in April.
As long as Secure Nevada's Future refuses to disclose its donors, it's impossible to know if Adelson, Wynn, NV Energy or some other mystery opponents of increased renewable energy is funding the effort, but longtime Nevada political reporter Jon Ralston wrote that "it's a reasonable assumption that major businesses are funding the operation."
Ralston reported that the one person publicly associated with the group as its executive director, Chris Young, used to work for Chris Carr while at the RNC; Carr now runs Wynn's political operation. Carr had previously run a non-profit, "Engage Nevada" that received significant funding from Adelson personally, as well as from NV Energy.
Conflict of Interest Among Nevada Resort Association Lobbyists
While Adelson's Sands Corporation tries to kill the strong renewable energy standard, another casino company, the MGM Grand Corporation, has actually shown that its commitment to renewable energy is more than just greenwashing. The company came out publicly in support of AB 206 earlier this week.
Like Wynn and Sands, MGM Grand is a member of the Nevada Resort Association—more than 10 of its properties are named as NRA member resorts, and MGM is listed on the NRA's board, along with Wynn.
But despite MGM's support for renewable energy growth, the NRA has sided with Wynn, Sands and NV Energy. The internal politics that drove that decision aren't public, but it's possible that some conflicts of interest among the NRA's lobbyists may be a contributing factor.
Carson City is a small town, and lobbyists commonly represent multiple interests, but a review of lobbyists for NV Energy, MGM Grand, Wynn, Sands, the NRA and Caesars revealed that the only overlap was between NV Energy and the NRA, and that overlap was significant: Of 12 lobbyists listed for NV Energy, seven are also lobbyists for the NRA. Those lobbyists are Morgan Baumgartner, Pete Ernaut, Greg Ferraro, Lorne Malkiewich, Nivk Vassiliadis, Nicole Willis-Grimes and Paul Young.
By Dave Anderson
Perry's remarks came during an on-stage interview at the 2017 Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit.
During an on-stage interview, Perry was asked if the administration would interfere with state policies requiring utilities to get power from renewable sources. Such a move would potentially destroy efforts by California, New York and other states to fight climate change by encouraging the growth of clean power.
Perry didn't rule it out, saying the reliability of the grid was a matter of national security.
"That's a conversation that will occur over the next few years," Perry said. "There may be issues that are so important that the federal government can intervene."
And according to Time's Justin Worland:
During a question and answer period, Perry also suggested that increased reliance on renewable energy sources like wind and solar might make the grid unreliable given they only work when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing, creating national security concerns. The Trump administration might try to preempt state and local governments that use policy to encourage clean energy to address those concerns, Perry said.
"There's a discussion, some of it very classified that will be occurring as we go further," Perry said. "The conversation needs to happen so the local governors and legislators, mayors and city council understand what's at stake here in making sure that our energy security is substantial."
Saqib Rahim of E&E News provided a slightly different quote from Perry:
"There's a conversation, there's a discussion, some of it obviously very classified, that will be occurring as we go forward, to make sure that we have the decisions made by Congress, in a lot of these cases, to protect the security interests of America," he said at BNEF's The Future of Energy Summit, "and that states and local entities do in fact get preempted with some of those decisions."
Perry's remarks re-sparked earlier concerns that the Trump administration could seek to preempt renewable energy standard policies that are now in place in 29 states, as well as renewable energy goals adopted by another nine states. The growing number of local communities that have committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy could also come under fire from the Trump administration.
Renewable Energy Is Reliable and Makes America Safer—Just Ask the Department of Energy
Rick Perry is also facing scrutiny for ordering a study examining "electricity markets and reliability" that was tasked to his Chief of Staff Brian McCormack, who previously played a central role in attacks against rooftop solar for the Edison Electric Institute. Also named to lead work on the study is political appointee Travis Fisher. Fisher previously worked for the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and American Energy Alliance (AEA), which have received ample funding from the Koch brothers and coal industry. IER and AEA have long sought to undermine renewable energy standards in states like North Carolina, a national leader in solar energy.
Christian Roselund of PV Magazine responded to Perry's study order by pointing out that the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)—one of the Dept. of Energy's 17 National Laboratories—has already written studies that show we can rely on renewable energy to provide much more of our electricity than it does today. In fact, one 2012 NREL study found that we could get 80 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2050 using existing technologies. Other studies by states and grid operators confirm that renewable energy is reliable.
Another NREL study documented the significant health and environmental benefits generated by the state renewable energy standards that the Trump administration could try to preempt. In short, these policies make Americans safer by reducing harmful pollution emitted when we burn fossil fuels—especially coal—to produce electricity.
Other reports by clean energy experts have documented the economic security benefits of these state renewable energy standards, which have supported the growth of jobs in the booming solar and wind power industries.
Real world experience also shows that renewable energy is working just fine. Texas, the state where Rick Perry was governor, actually leads the nation in wind energy generation. In fact, nearly a quarter of the electricity generated in Texas during the first quarter of 2017 came from wind.
Ask the Department of Defense, Too
The Dept. of Defense does not appear to share the Trump administration's concerns about renewable energy. In fact, the military has made significant investments in renewable energy in order to enhance national security—an investment that continues with Trump in the White House. The U.S. Navy just recently refuted misleading claims that a new wind farm could interfere with a radar system made by some Republican lawmakers in North Carolina who wrote a letter to the Trump administration.
Climate Change Is a Real Threat to Energy and National Security
In 2015, the Dept. of Energy released a report that documented the threat climate change poses to energy security—and by extension national security—in every region of the U.S.
Trump's efforts to rollback limits on carbon dioxide pollution from power plants and his embrace of the so-called "clean coal" put the nation's energy and national security at further risk from climate change. Preempting state and local support for renewables would only increase those risks.
Rick Perry Could Support Renewable Energy by Working for a Smart Grid
Greentech Media reported that Perry made only "sparse" mention of renewable energy at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance Summit, but did say he wants to "help renewable energy make its way to the grid … "
Preempting local and state support for renewable energy would only ensure that less renewable energy makes its way to the grid. Perry could instead take positive steps to support integration of renewable energy by working to build a smart grid, the topic of a Dept. of Energy website. He could also support the energy storage revolution that is now underway, thanks in part to earlier investments by the Dept. of Energy.
Unfortunately, the Trump administration's energy policy seems to more squarely align with fossil fuel and utility interests who seek to undermine state and local support for renewable energy.
The Trump Team Is Full of Opponents of State and Local Support for Renewable Energy
Travis Fisher is not the only political pick by the Trump administration that comes with a history of attacking state and local policies that have fueled the growth of renewable energy to benefit funders in the fossil fuel or utility industry.
Trump tapped Thomas Pyle, also of the Institute for Energy Research (IER) and American Energy Alliance (AEA), to run his Dept. of Energy transition team. IER and AEA have targeted state renewable energy standard policies with misleading attacks for years. During the 2016 election, Trump responded to an AEA questionnaire with pledges to "review" key U.S. clean energy and climate change policies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan and science-based endangerment finding for greenhouse gas emissions. Trump has already fulfilled part of that pledge by beginning the process of rolling back the Clean Power Plan.
Trump similarly chose climate denier Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute to lead his Environmental Protection Agency transition team. Like Fisher and Pyle, Ebell has attacked renewable energy standards in states like Ohio. Greentech Media recently took a rather revealing look at the backgrounds of some other members of Trump's energy beachhead team.
No Uncertainty About State and Local Support for Renewable Energy
At this point, it remains unclear how exactly the Trump administration would use the pretense of reliability concerns to preempt state and local support for renewable energy. If it does seek to preempt state and local control, it will certainly face significant opposition from states and local communities—including those led by Republicans—that are already leading the way on renewable energy.
By Nancy LaPlaca
For the gas industry and some utilities that are racing to build as much gas infrastructure as possible, there's a lot riding on a shale gas "play" known as the Marcellus. For those who aren't buried in natural gas minutiae, a "play" is an area where there's lots of fracking for natural gas.
U.S. shale gas production (i.e. from hydraulically fractured wells) has grown steeply over the past 17 years and is now 67 percent of total U.S. natural gas.
Gas prices have historically been extremely volatile, but gas companies and utilities are saying that it will stay low for a long time—almost indefinitely—and they base much of that argument on the Marcellus, the largest source of fracked gas in the U.S.
The Cost of Natural Gas is Extremely Volatile
The cost of natural gas has always been volatile and its price has been a roller-coaster ride for the past decade. Duke Energy's former CEO, Jim Rogers, famously called it the "crack cocaine" of the power industry. And because the cost of fuel is what's known as a "pass-through," electricity customers reimburse the utility for its fuel costs. This means that utilities and their shareholders, don't really have skin in the game when it comes to fuel costs. And in 2014 alone, electric utilities around the U.S. spent $42.4 billion purchasing natural gas for electric power plants (and another $39 billion for coal).
The chart below shows the volatility of natural gas since 1997. The two biggest spikes are Hurricane Katrina (August 2005) and the run-up in oil and gas costs which peaked in July 2008 with oil at $147/barrel and natural gas at $13/MMBtu.
Key to Understanding Natural Gas Price Volatility: It's Priced at the Margin and Utilities Only Hedge a Year or So in Advance
One of the keys to understanding natural gas pricing is that it's priced "at the margin." In plain language, this means that today's price reflects the immediate past and the immediate future. Due to the volatility of gas prices, prices for natural gas are usually only "hedged" (i.e. 'locked in') a year or less in advance. In Florida, utilities paid $6 billion too much for natural gas over a 15 year period after the price of gas crashed. So while hedging gas can save money over certain time periods, it can also be a big money-loser.
This means that beyond the one year when gas prices are hedged, consumers must pay whatever the gas costs, no matter what. And because fuel costs are "pass-throughs," if the utility's cost estimates are off, it's the customers who pay, not the utility or shareholders.
Despite the Volatility of Natural Gas Prices, EIA Assumes Natural Gas at $5/MMBtu from 2030 to 2040
Despite the extreme ups and downs of natural gas pricing, the U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) 2017 Annual Energy Outlook projects that the cost of natural gas will remain at bargain-basement levels from 2030 to 2040 at $5.00 per MMBtu. This is 20 percent below what EIA forecast in its 2015 Annual Energy Outlook price forecast over the 2015-2040 period.
Average Decline Rate for Shale Gas Well is 75-85 Percent Over First Three Years
While the increase in U.S. shale gas production is stunning, so are the decline rates for individual wells, which average 75-85 percent decline over the first three years. As geoscientist David Hughes points out, a steep decline rate for each well means that 30-45 percent of a play's production must be replaced each year by more drilling. In some areas of the U.S., spacing of gas wells has dropped from 1 well pad per 240 acres to 1 well pad per 10 acres.
A good example is the Haynesville shale play, which started at nearly zero in 2006 and shot up quickly until peaking in early 2012. As of 2017, the Haynesville is down by 52 percent. Despite the obvious decline in production, the EIA recently predicted an ever-higher output from the Haynesville, so that it will nearly double its 2012 peak and continue producing gas past 2040.
What About the Marcellus?
The Marcellus shale play currently provides over a third of total U.S. shale gas produced and is mainly in Pennsylvania but also includes eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia and southern New York state. The top five shale-producing counties in Pennsylvania have accounted for 65 percent of cumulative production from the Marcellus play, demonstrating the fact that most gas is produced from a few "sweet spots."
The EIA's overblown estimate of future gas supplies is higher for the Marcellus shale than any other play.
The chart below, Figure 1 from Hughes' 2016 study, shows the estimated recovery for several plays from the EIA's Annual Energy Outlook for 2014, 2015 and 2016. The 2016 estimate for the Marcellus play, in red, shoots up higher than any other play in the U.S. and is in fact 76 percent higher than the Annual Energy Outlook 2014 estimate. Note that the short black bar on the right is actual gas recovery. The Annual Energy Outlook 2016 estimate is also triple the estimate by the U.S. Geological Survey.
One constraint that's seldom mentioned is geological: many sweet spots already have so many wells that it's impossible to drill more wells without draining gas from adjacent wells, known as "well saturation."
During 2014 "Polar Vortex" Wind Power Saved Customers $1 Billion Over Two Days
Can clean energy really save money compared to natural gas fuel costs?
In early January 2014, an event called the "Polar Vortex" plunged the Northeast and Great Lakes region into a bitter cold. During those two days, as the cost of natural gas on the spot market skyrocketed to meet the huge demand, wind energy saved customers a stunning $1 billion over two days.
A more recent study by Synapse Energy Economics reports that if the use of wind energy doubled in the PJM Interconnection beyond current requirements, 12 states would save customers $7 billion per year, in part because wind energy would displace the need to purchase fuel.
Where is the U.S. Today on Natural Gas Production?
The latest numbers from the EIA report that year over year, U.S. natural gas production—and oil production—decreased from 2015 to 2016. Whether this trend continues or is merely a temporary decline, is yet to be seen.
But it's certainly worth watching. Any decreases in production might signal higher prices down the road, calling into question all of the math utilities are using to justify their massive investments in gas pipelines and power plants.