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Questions Multiply Around Virginia’s Hiring of Coal Advocate to Write Key Energy Study

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Cross posted from The Checks and Balances Project; article written by Scott Peterson

In my recent post, “Is Coal Center Too Conflicted to Analyze How Virginia Responds to Fed’s Clean Power Plan?” I raised questions about who in Virginia government chose a professional coal advocate to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of how Virginia should best meet the Clean Power Plan standards.

The advocate in question is Virginia Tech’s Michael Karmis. He runs the Center for Coal and Energy Research and has extensively consulted with the coal industry. His Center is sponsored by:

VCERC sponsors 11.3.14

The Center’s “Advisory Board” includes the Virginia Dept. of Mines, Minerals and Energy Director Mr. Conrad Spangler, along with the major players in the state’s fossil fuel industries, including:

Of its eight staff experts, all appear to be closely tied to the coal industry. Neither Dr. Karmis, nor anyone else on the Center’s staff have any discernable experience with energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, which have in recent years created 290,000 jobs in neighboring Mid-Atlantic states.

Foundation Document but No Analysis of Renewables

The cost-benefit analysis that Dr. Karmis was hired is a foundation document for informing how the state will respond to the federal Clean Power Plan standards (CPP). The Governor, his staff, and the Virginia legislature will heavily rely on its findings over the next year, and they were already included in the State Energy Plan, released on Oct. 1, 2014.

In Section 3 of the analysis, Commercially Available Technology (page 49), renewables are not included:

  • Improving the Efficiency of [coal] Power Generation (p.51)
  • Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage Technology Assessment (p.63)
  • CCUS in VA (pg. 72)
  • Energy Efficiency Technology (p.74)

On pages 94-95, Dr, Karmis writes:

“There have not been adequate studies or analysis to demonstrate the practicality of such expansion [of renewable power generation] within Virginia, and few efforts are currently ongoing which can be used as positive examples of the capability of the Commonwealth to meet demand using renewable sources. A study conducted by Virginia Tech in 2005 assessed various sources of renewable power for Virginia, and concluded that… cost and applicability for Virginia must await a detailed assessment.”

Critics have said that this finding clashes with the business world realities of rapidly dropping prices for solar and wind energy.

Questions

The selection of Dr. Karmis begs some straightforward questions:

  • Who made the decision to hire Dr. Karmis?
  • Doesn’t Virginia have someone with experience in a range of energy sources and efficiency expertise to conduct this critical cost-benefit analysis?
  • Was anyone else considered for the task of writing this vitally important study?
  • What was Dr. Karmis paid, if anything, to do this study?
  • Were there clean energy experts that Dr. Karmis consulted with?
  • And, does the coal lobby’s money that heavily underwrites Dr. Karmis’ “Center” and his salary make him too conflicted to write an objective analysis?

On Oct. 9, I contacted Dr. Karmis by phone in his office to ask him the questions above. He was between meetings and was only able to speak with me for very short period of time. Dr. Karmis told me that he had consulted renewable energy experts in producing the cost-benefit analysis, but he could not tell me who they were because there was a non-disclosure agreement. If Al Christopher, director of energy of Virginia’s Dept. of Mines, Minerals and Energy DMME), gave him permission, he would be glad to tell me. Karmis told me Christopher had “coordinated” the study.

dmme_logoI had sent Freedom of Information Act requests to DMME and Virginia Tech in pursuit of these and other questions. In response, DMME sent me emails and other records that I am in the process of analyzing. The response from VT was disappointing.

I caught up with Mr. Christopher in Richmond on Oct. 14, prior to Gov. McAuliffe’s unveiling of the Energy Plan. Christopher said that state law required that Dr. Karmis write the cost-benefit analysis, and that I should look at the statute, which I’ve posted here. The law in Section 1 A says only that Dr. Karmis’ Coal Center be “consulted,” not that Dr. Karmis should write the entire cost-benefit analysis – a big difference.

I sent Mr. Christopher an email asking for a clear answer about whether or not Dr. Karmis was free to answer my question about which renewable energy experts Dr. Karmis had consulted, but have received no reply.

Christopher email snip 10.14.14

I have also asked Mr. Christopher in a follow-up email to tell me where in the law he was “required” to hire Dr. Karmis to write the cost-benefit analysis, but again with no reply.

This morning, I left a message at Mr. Christopher’s office to confirm he received my emails. I have not received a reply to any of my emails to him or my voice mail. I will continue to press for answers.

Scott Peterson

Executive Director