The Department of Energy has promoted a once-outspoken critic of renewable energy to serve as deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency, according to an email obtained by E&E News.
Alex Fitzsimmons has been serving as acting deputy assistant secretary for energy efficiency since last June and has been working in DOE's renewable and efficiency office since the summer of 2017. The political appointee was formerly chief of staff in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE).
Daniel Simmons, the EERE assistant secretary, said in the staff email that Fitzsimmons has promoted initiatives such as the energy storage grand challenge, a 10-year bid to lower the cost of storage technologies, and advanced efforts to recycle lithium batteries and improve the efficiency of plastics recycling.
"I'm looking forward to the continued leadership Alex will bring to EERE's Energy Efficiency sector," Simmons wrote.
President Trump has proposed slashing EERE's budget by more than half, although Congress has raised funds for the office every year. The office has also come under fire from environmentalists for rescinding lightbulb efficiency standards and failing to update standards for appliances. Industry has argued that many Obama-era efficiency regulations were burdensome.
Pasha Majdi, policy manager at the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, said that Fitzsimmons has had an open door policy and that his group is looking for more "follow-through" on DOE rules.
"We've been saying for quite some time we'd like to see appliance standards promulgated with statutory deadlines," he said. DOE Undersecretary Mark Menezes has testified that the department would meet the deadlines, he added, "and now we're looking for follow-through."
Before joining DOE, Fitzsimmons cautioned against the spread of energy sources like wind power and promoted fossil fuels (Greenwire, June 4, 2019).
From February 2016 to July 2017, he was the face of Fueling U.S. Forward, a nonprofit that Koch Industries Inc. launched to promote fossil fuels, primarily to low-income and minority groups. He spoke in a 2016 video about winning "hearts and minds" for the cause.
In a 2014 BBC interview, Fitzsimmons, then with the Institute for Energy Research (IER), said wind is "scarce, expensive, unreliable" technology that creates transmission challenges in countries like China and has done little to lower emissions compared with natural gas.
"Wind was not designed for the grid," he said. "Wind energy only works about 30% of the time on average. That's no way to run a newsroom, and I don't think it's any way to run a country."
Fitzsimmons graduated with a bachelor's degree in political science from George Washington University in 2012 and went to work as the policy director for IER from 2013 to 2016.