EIA Annual Report Livens Up the Conversation in Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

By Monica Charles

Washington, DC – On Thursday, EIA administrator Adam Sieminski presented the energy outlook for the next thirty years to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The report includes data and analysis for many aspects of U.S. energy markets, including crude oil, renewable energy, and electricity costs. Sen. Angus King (D-Maine) called the 150-page report “the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ for data geeks.”

The U.S. Energy Information Administration, which is a part of the U.S. Department of Energy, is the agency in charge of collecting and analyzing information about energy. The EIA focuses on data that affects the economy and the environment, specifically.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) opening remarks touched on multiple aspects of the report that indicate “enormously good news for our nation,” but also a necessity to increase investment in “pipelines and other midstream infrastructure.”

“It doesn’t require much of an imagination to see how [this investment] may potentially enhance our geopolitical position around the world,” Murkowski said.

The report estimates that the United States “could see zero net energy imports in 2028.” But, at the same time, the EIA projects an 18 percent increase in the average retail price of electricity by 2040, due to the “rising costs for electric power generation, transmission, and distribution, coupled with relatively slow growth of electricity demand.”

Throughout his testimony, Sieminski emphasized that the report doesn’t necessarily predict the future, and that it is projective more than anything else. Geopolitical issues “could significantly change EIA’s outlook for oil supply, demand, and prices,” he said.

A conversation about energy and oil could not have been had without mention of Iran. Sieminski stated that Iran sanctions may “have big impact on availability of oil.”

Sen. Murkowski, who has been known to support the liberalization of U.S. energy trade policies, commented on the Iran situation.

“U.S. producers should be allowed to compete directly with Iran in the global market,” she said. “Our situation here in the United States is that American companies are subjected to an export ban here. You’ve got an incongruence going on here where we will have Iran able to make money off selling oil to our friends, our allies, and using that new revenue for whatever purposes – perhaps nefarious purposes – we don’t know.”

Murkowski strongly urged the committee to reevaluate the country’s current policies. “If these sanctions are lifted and we in fact keep our own domestic sanctions in place, our ability to export a product that could help our friends and allies and our own country, it effectively ends up being a liability for us,” she said.

While the report does discuss international markets, regional projections are a main focus as well.

“The impact of U.S. production goes beyond just the Iranian sanctions issue,” Sieminski said, as he cited the potential increase in renewable energy.

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) proposed a set of national standards for renewable resources, pointing out Hawaii’s successful standards – Hawaii now produces 18 percent of its electricity from renewables– and predicting that more organization and cooperation at a federal level will increase these projections.

“A system of solar panels and battery storage would be the most affordable option,” Sen. Hirono explained, both for Honolulu and for many other states in the next decade. “When we set these national standards it spurs the private sector to engage in research and developments,” she said.

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-WV) expressed concern over regional impacts, given that West Virginia is a top coal producing state.

“I have a problem with the demonizing of coal,” he said. “If there’s another fuel on the horizon it’s fine, but why in the world are we beating it to death and making it so impossible to produce the energy the country needs?”

Many committee members also expressed concern over the reliability of the data in the report, but Sieminski reemphasized that the report is only meant to give a projection.

“I don’t have any doubt at all that there will be problems with the forecast of 2040,” Sieminski said, “But it’s still super helpful.”

The report comes at an opportune time; the committee is currently working on a bipartisan energy bill. The bill will address efficiency and accountability as well as infrastructure and supply. Sen. Murkowski held that the EIA’s information is a major asset.

“It’s my hope… that we will gain some numerical grounding to that effort and that EIA will continue to be a resource for the Committee going forward,” she said.

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