October 09, 2017

Goal of 100% Renewable Energy Focus of Conference at Lewis & Clark Law School Green Energy Institute

Re-Energizing the West Conference sparked a robust dialogue for a zero carbon energy future.

Legislative and economic forces — particularly in the western states — are providing impetus toward the goal of 100% renewable energy. This opportunity was the focus of elected officials, business leaders, regulators, and policy advocates at the Lewis & Clark Law School Green Energy Institute conference, “Re-Energizing the West,” on October 7.

“The costs of renewable energy have dramatically decreased,” noted law professor and GEI founder, Melissa Powers, as she welcomed the 120 participants attending. “At the same time, we’ve witnessed great innovation in energy technology.  Now we need to come together to take advantage of these economic forces toward renewable energy.”

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), providing opening session remarks, noted the progress made by state and local policies. California, Oregon, and Washington are among 14 states whose governors have sworn to go ahead and abide by the Paris accords. In addition, numerous western cities, including Portland, are committed to obtaining 100 percent of their electricity from green sources, and state governments in the three coastal states either already have or soon will put a price on carbon emissions.

“The goal is simple—to save our planet,” Merkley said, emphasizing that climate change is “not a theory any more.  We have to envision an energy future of 100% renewable energy.”

Incremental improvement in reducing carbon emissions is no longer enough; radical change is needed, said Merkley, who has introduced federal legislation that would require all energy to be carbon-free by 2050.

Business leaders addressed the importance of a robust grid to transport renewable energy to consumers.  Several efforts are underway to regionalize the transmission grid, beginning with the creation of an energy imbalance market, which allows states to tap excess electricity in other states in real time, reducing the need for additional generation and saving consumers tens of millions of dollars annually.

Mike Garland, CEO of Pattern Energy, also noted the remarkable opportunity presented by Puerto Rico (after Hurricane Maria’s destruction). “If their grid is rebuilt with today’s technology, it could vividly demonstrate how green energy can be the most efficient and affordable source of power.”

Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), spoke about transportation mobility options with West Coast states recently authorizing more than $200 billion in expenditures to promote transportation aimed at reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion.

Consumer behavior is changing as well. Blumenauer cited the statistic that “40 percent fewer 16-year-olds have a driver’s license today than just a few years ago,” a clear trend that younger generations are no longer as interested in owning or even driving cars, with ride-sharing, mass transit and autonomic electric vehicles on the rise.

Meanwhile, for those who wish to still own and drive a car, Steven Douglas of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said an increasing number of auto makers, most recently GM, have announced they are now committed to an electric car future.  Within five years, Douglas said consumers will be able to choose from 24 new all-electric vehicles that will have a range of more than 200 miles per charge, and that leases on some of these cars will be less than the cost of monthly cell phone service.

Not a Partisan Issue

The commitment to increase the amount of clean, renewable energy is not limited to the coastal states nor should it be a partisan issue, speakers said.

Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-CA), a pioneer in California’s wind industry in the 1990s, said Iowa and Texas now produce more electricity from wind than California does.

Scott Bolton, a senior vice president for PacifiCorp, which serves customers in Idaho, Utah and Wyoming, in addition to “the reddest parts” of California, Oregon, and Washington, said the company did extensive polling and focus groups before deciding to seek proposals to develop more than 1,200 MW of new wind in Wyoming.

Even though Wyoming produces more coal than any other state and Trump carried Wyoming with 68 percent of the vote in 2016, Bolton said PacifiCorp surveys found 65 percent of the state’s residents want more wind developed in the state.

With prices for wind and solar power declining by 50 to 80 percent over the past decade, Bolton said Wyoming residents favor an “all of the above” energy strategy, particularly when it means an increased tax base and new jobs that allow young people to stay in the state. 

Sarah Hunt, director of the Center for Innovation and Technology at the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative organization to which one in four state legislators in the United States belongs, said there is a strong conservative case to be made in favor of renewable power.

Conservatives love job creation, she said, noting that renewable energy technician is the fastest growing job in the country, that these are jobs that do not require a college degree, and that the renewable industry does a particularly good job of hiring military veterans.

Renewable power also has national security implications because it makes the United States less reliant on foreign sources of energy, Hunt said, adding that, with federal subsidies for renewable power disappearing, conservatives should take a fresh look at subsidies provided to other energy sectors if they really want a free market and a level playing field.

“If the economics makes sense, we can find middle ground,” Hunt said.

Republican California Assemblyman Rocky Chavez (R-San Diego), a former Marine colonel, said he wanted to speak at the forum to underscore that Republicans “are not all ‘Trumpites,’” and that many disagree with his environmental policies.

Chavez, who emphasized he also favors nuclear power as an emission-free energy source, was one of a half-dozen Republican members of the California Assembly to vote in favor of re-authorizing California’s carbon cap and trade system.

“I fear global warming,” Chavez said. “I don’t think it’s a belief; it’s a fact.”

Chavez said he believes three-quarters of the Republican members of the California Legislature secretly agree with him but they fear political backlash from the more extreme elements of their party if they vote for things like pricing carbon.

This is a big mistake, Chavez said, noting the GOP has seen its size and influence in California decline significantly over the past two decades. 

The Republican Party has a history of promoting conservation since before the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, Chavez said, and if the Republicans do not do better on environmental issues today they will become increasingly irrelevant in places like California no matter their message on other issues.

A Beginning 

At the conclusion of the conference, Melissa Powers joined Don Furman of the advocacy organization, Fix the Grid, to encourage participants to be ambitious in their efforts. “We are not sure that the policies we are implementing will achieve the goal of 100% renewable energy because we do not have a strategic blueprint to follow,” said Powers. “This gathering is a beginning. We need to be more collaborative, more deliberative in our efforts to ensure a future of carbon-free energy.”