Chu Memo on Federal Hydropower Reflects ‘Religious Fervor of the Radical Left,’ GOP Lawmaker Says

Penny Starr | April 30, 2012 | 1:56pm EDT
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Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

( – In a Mar. 16 memorandum, Energy Secretary Steven Chu outlined plans to restructure the marketing of federal hydropower operations in an effort to advance the Obama administration’s green energy agenda, which apparently would raise electricity costs, critics charged on Thursday.

“[T]his has nothing to do with science or with economics,” Rep. McClintock (R-Calif.) said in reference to Chu’s memorandum. “It has everything to do with a religious fervor on the radical left.”

The House Committee on Natural Resources, on Apr. 26, held an oversight hearing on Chu’s memo, which calls for upgrading the infrastructure and cyber-security of the nation’s four Power Marketing Administrations (PMAs): Bonneville, Southeastern, Southwestern and Western. These PMAs, going back 75 years, deliver electricity from federal hydroelectric dams through transmission lines, substations and powerplants. (chu memo.pdf)

In his memo to the directors of the four PMAs, Chu said, among other points, that “rate design” would have to change and he was “directing the PMAs to create rate structures that incentivize the following: energy efficient programs; demand response programs [paying customers to reduce use of electricity during high-demand periods]; integration of variable resources [solar and wind energy], and; preparation for electric-vehicle deployment.”

Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said at an April 26, 2012 hearing of the House Committee on Natural Resources that Chu's plan to restructure the nation's electrical power grid was being done to advance the Obama administration's green energy agenda. ( Starr).

At the committee hearing, Rep. McClintock (R-Calif.) further said, “I wonder what is going on really here. I mean, isn’t this an ideology preference by elements on the left for wind and solar electricity above all other sources regardless of the costs?”

“And the costs are considerable,” he said.

Mark Crisson, the president and CEO of the American Public Power Association – one of the private non-profits that partners with the federal government to operate 2,000 community-owned electric utilities that serve 46 million Americans in 49 states --  responded to the California lawmaker.

Crisson said integrating renewable energy sources into the power grid could increase costs.

“Let me put it this way,” Crisson said. “We find it very puzzling and confusing that an administration that touts an ‘all of the above’ energy policy would favor providing incentives for intermittent wind and solar at the expense of hydro-power and hydro-power customers.”

Mark Crisson, president and CEO of the American Public Power Association. ( Starr)

“That’s because this has nothing to do with science or with economics,” McClintock said. “It has everything to do with a religious fervor on the radical left.”

Crisson also told McClintock that dependent upon how much of the memo’s ideas are put into place, the cost of electricity “could go up a lot.”

“Today's hearing is about protecting millions of electricity consumers from potentially expensive Washington, D.C. mandates put together under the cover of darkness and without any input from those most impacted,” Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.), chairman of the committee, said in his opening remarks.

Hastings said the changes Chu wants to make to the PMAs could jeopardize providing “low-cost, renewable hydropower to millions of families and small businesses.”

“This mission has worked well for generations and nothing seems to be broken, yet the energy secretary has chosen to rope the PMAs into a larger ideological agenda,” Hastings said. “An agenda I believe will raise energy costs during these troubling economic times.”

Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) is the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources. ( Starr)

“Americans are already struggling to fill up their tanks due to the rising price of gasoline, and the last thing they need is to pay more every time they flip on the light switch,” Hastings said.

“The electric bills of families and small businesses that depend on power from PMAs should not be increased because the federal energy secretary would like to toy and experiment with various energy schemes and mandates,” Hastings said in a press release.  “The last thing they need is another hastily written and unjustified Washington, DC-knows-best mandate that inflicts further economic pain and increases their power bills.”

Energy Secretary Chu was invited by Chairman Hastings to testify at the hearing but Chu declined.

Glenn English, an Oklahoma Democrat who served 10 terms in the House and is now the CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, was also a panelist at the hearing who expressed concern over Chu’s plans for the PMAs.

“Since each of these regions is so complex and policies are developed in partnership with the federal power customers, PMAs have been statutorily headquartered in the geographic areas in which they serve, rather than in Washington, D.C.,” English said. “Secretary Chu’s memo seems to bring an end to that practice, which is a big concern to our members.”

“The federal power customers and the electric consumers they serve are not convinced that a ‘Washington-knows-best’ approach will result in improved delivery of electricity,” English said.

In the memorandum, Chu states that he wants to “transition to a more flexible and resilient electric grid” that takes advantage of  “energy efficiency” and “clean energy.” (chu memo.pdf)

The memo said the Deprtment of Energy will direct PMAs to “integrate variable resources” such as wind and solar generation of electricity into their strategic plans.

Ranking Member Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) used his time at the hearing to criticize the Republicans for equating modernizing the electrical grid with higher energy costs, and he praised Chu for his “vision” and claimed the plan would reduce costs to consumers.

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) accused the Republicans of opposing Chu's plan because they equate modernization of the nation's electrical power grid with higher energy prices at a House hearing on April 26, 2012.( Starr)

“You can’t get anywhere without a vision, and a plan is a first step that lays the foundation for renewable energy, energy efficiency, demand response, smart grid and other innovations to become fundamental pieces of our electricity system,” Markey said.

Markey went so far as to call the PMAs “socialists” for the model of electricity production and distribution now in place.

“Inefficient socialist power – and that’s what all these power marketing administrations are,” Markey said. “They’re all socialists right to their core -- socialist power systems and restrictions to free competition.

“Of all the things that are socialist in America, this is at the top of the list,” Markey said.

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