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Even as Wind Power Rises, It Falls Under a Political Cloud

Though some energy analysts and executives say it is unlikely that the Trump administration will seek to undo the federal tax credit — which is set to phase out by 2020 — high-ranking Energy Department officials involved in the study have taken part in efforts to diminish support for renewables. Those include Mr. Perry’s chief of staff, Brian McCormack, whom Mr. Perry directed to initiate the study, and another appointee, Travis Fisher, who is overseeing it, according to a former Energy Department official who is one of its advisers.

Mr. McCormack, as vice president for political and external affairs at the main trade group for the electric utility industry, the Edison Electric Institute, was part of an effort to diminish incentives for rooftop solar installations, according to the Energy and Policy Institute, which supports renewables. Mr. Fisher is a former economist at the Institute for Energy Research, a right-leaning policy organization connected to Charles G. Koch, the ultraconservative billionaire whose fortune is connected to oil and petrochemicals. Mr. Fisher has suggested that policies promoting renewable energy should be repealed or overhauled and has blamed the production tax credit for making the grid less reliable.

Mr. Perry has relationships with executives in the oil, gas and nuclear waste industries. But the Energy Department said its review was simply meant to ensure a balanced and secure energy supply, and noted the surge in wind development during his time as governor, making Texas the leading wind energy-producing state by far.

“Secretary Perry’s proven record as a champion for an all-of-the-above energy policy speaks for itself,” said Shaylyn Hynes, a department spokeswoman. “He understands that a reliable, resilient and affordable electric system — using all of our domestic resources, including renewables — is essential.”

Photo

Eric Mangel, a power systems trader, at his desk on the Xcel Energy trading floor in downtown Denver. He monitors energy activity in Colorado and the surrounding area.

Credit
Ryan David Brown for The New York Times

The department would not comment on how Mr. McCormack and Mr. Fisher would influence the study.

Parts of the study aim to determine the extent to which current regulations and incentives are forcing coal and nuclear plants to close, and whether the increased use of renewable sources is adding to the cost of operating the system.

But many energy experts and executives say the study appears to take an outmoded view of how grid operators and some utilities are looking to meet their base loads, and have criticized the fast deadline and lack of outreach to those who oversee the electric system. The Energy Department is working with researchers at several national laboratories and the Energy Information Administration, but not grid operators or state and federal regulators, because of time constraints, according to internal study memos obtained by The New York Times.

Although wind energy on its own cannot fill all the functions of traditional power plants, it is increasingly serving some of them; utility executives are beginning to call it the new base-load source. In several regions, especially at night when demand is lower, grid operators will signal coal and nuclear plants to reduce production and let wind displace their output.

Some states, like Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and the Dakotas, have pulled far ahead in wind production, but few utilities are taking advantage of it more than Xcel. It already leads the nation’s utilities in wind power on its system, according to the industry’s main trade group, the American Wind Energy Association, and is working to add more than any other electric company.

Mr. Fowke, the chief executive, said that he planned to replace aging coal plants mainly with wind and use natural gas as the backup, and that he hoped the production tax credit would stay in place as currently planned.

“The P.T.C. is one piece of the puzzle and allows us to offer wind at a price that is below virtually any other alternative,” he said, adding that as renewables continued to come down in price they would be able to expand even as the subsidies phase out. “It’s working for us — you can have a cleaner product and it can be affordable.”

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