Thank You for Joining Us at Tomorrow’s Energy System
February 25, 2019
On February 9, 2019, the Green Energy Institute at Lewis & Clark Law School (GEI) brought together an engaging group of experts to discuss the transition to tomorrow’s energy system. “We have to recognize that the incumbency dynamic associated with our existing resources and economy will require us to be far more strategic, far more generous, far more creative than even the moonshot required,” stated Melissa Powers, professor of law and director of GEI. It is this urgency for comprehensive and strategic change that led the GEI team to organize Tomorrow’s Energy System. The full-day conference featured elected officials, renewable energy and utility executives, regulators, and advocacy leaders who discussed the barriers to ambitious climate change mitigation and ways to overcome them.
Wim Wiewel, President of Lewis & Clark College, and Jennifer Johnson, Dean of Lewis & Clark Law School, issued opening remarks welcoming attendees to the event and expressing appreciation for the distinguished alumni and elected leaders in the room. GEI Director Melissa Powers then set the stage for the day, discussing how “we need to be thinking about what our energy transition looks like, not only from a technological and economic perspective but from a social perspective.” The theme of a just, comprehensive energy transition permeated the conversation throughout the day.
The first panel discussed federal and state roles in the Western clean energy transition, featuring Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Elliot Mainzer, Administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), and Dave Robertson, Vice President of Public Policy for Portland General Electric. Representative Blumenauer began his remarks by underscoring the scope of the crisis we are now facing: “We are in trouble, and it isn’t just climate—what we need now is something that is aspirational, that captures the spirit of urgency.” Rep. Blumenauer then transitioned into a discussion into the Green New Deal, a suite of policy proposals ranging from greenhouse gas reductions to universal health care recently introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA). Mr. Mainzer discussed what some of these proposals mean to an organization like BPA, a federal power marketing agency.Mr. Mainzer agreed with Rep. Blumenauer on the need for infrastructure development and for continued grid transformation to support ambitious renewable energy goals. “All of us in the utility space are trying to avail ourselves of all of the new automation technologies and virtual intelligence technologies. The grid moves faster today than it did 10 to 15 years ago. Investing in automation and accuracy in forecasting is giving us the ability to extend the existing flexibility [of the grid] more broadly.”
The second panel, State Energy Policy Innovation in the Pacific states, illuminated the ways in which state leaders are working to encourage ambitious energy planning and investments.“The states truly are becoming more and more the laboratories of democracy when it comes to energy policy… States have taken a lot of action over the last decade and a half in setting energy policy that has moved markets, that has deployed billions of dollars of capital, and has fundamentally changed how people view and interact with energy,” noted Scott Bolton, Senior Vice President of External Affairs and Customer Solutions at Pacific Power. Michael Picker, President of the California Public Utilities Commission, added that we also must go beyond action at the state level, recognizing that regional collaboration will be key to achieving swift decarbonization because “energy and climate are not bound by political jurisdiction.” Janine Benner, Director of the Oregon Department of Energy, concurred. “Having the states of Washington, Oregon, and California collaborate makes a lot of sense. We share a coastline, we share transportation corridors, we share an economy, and we know that by working together we can more efficiently and effectively meet our climate and energy goals. Being able to show what’s possible on the West Coast can help set the stage for future action [at the federal level].”
The discussion of grid technologies and West-wide collaboration led organically into the following panel, which focused on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and its role in grid regionalization, western energy markets, and the rapid influx of new technologies onto the system. Panelists Liz Salerno, Economic Advisor for FERC Commissioner Richard Glick, and Suedeen Kelly, former FERC Commissioner, moderated by Nidhi Thakar, Chief of Strategy and External Affairs for CPUC President Picker, discussed the nuanced positions FERC is navigating, especially as energy storage becomes more advanced and participates in both retail and wholesale transactions. Ms. Salerno noted, “the West, particularly California, has been tackling these issues [can you participate in both retail and wholesale? how do you prevent double counting?] for sometime, and I think this has been instrumental in informing FERC, in terms of what are even the right questions to ask and what do we have to deal with…it’s worth noting that regions are moving forward, and it’s really helpful to FERC when we have some laboratories to work off of [in terms of lessons learned].” Former Commissioner Kelly encouraged the industry to explore new market structures to facilitate the energy transition: “FERC will be open to a different kind of market, different from [other regional markets]. If I were in your shoes and wanted a broader regional market, I would feel somewhat free to rethink what a market would look like, to not be constrained entirely by how the other markets have structured themselves, and in particular the market rules that apply to entry, to price formation, and to mitigation, because the details in those rules affect what resources play into the market and how they compete.”
Following the morning’s engaging panels, Oregon Governor Kate Brown gave a keynote address, noting Oregon’s current statewide energy and climate initiatives. Governor Brown discussed her Oregon Climate Agenda, highlighting the recently introduced House Bill 2020, which would establish a Carbon Policy Office and Oregon Climate Action Program, a carbon cap and invest program. Governor Brown also mentioned the Pacific Coast Collaborative and noted the importance of regional cooperation in tackling the global climate crisis. The Governor was joined by Chris Brown, CEO of Vestas Americas, a subsidiary of Vestas, which is the largest wind turbine producer in the world and operates wind power in nearly 80 countries. Vestas Americas is headquartered in Portland, Oregon and is currently building a 200-megawatt wind project in Gilliam County. Mr. Brown noted that the company’s long history (Vestas was founded in 1898) has given their team a unique perspective on the pace of change in the renewable energy industry. U.S. wind installations have skyrocketed from 274 megawatts in 2012 to more than 5 gigawatts in 2019, with the expectation for continued growth.
Following Governor Brown’s address, we heard from two presenters who set the stage for climate and energy policy action happening in cities and counties around the country. Mike Steinhoff, Program Manager at ICLEI-USA, illuminated how local jurisdictions have tracked greenhouse gases over the years and how that process has changed over time. He noted that more advanced data is allowing city leaders to better understand what is most effectively driving down greenhouse gases [see Powerpoint presentation below]. Ryan Cook, Senior Associate with the Cadmus Group, then described the kinds of innovative strategies cities have been pursuing to target greenhouse gases, such as green tariff programs, community choice aggregation, rebate programs with sliding scales to address equity concerns, municipal green banks, and innovative means to electrify buildings [see Powerpoint presentation below].
GEI’s staff attorney Amelia Schlusser then moderated a discussion with Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba, John Wasiutynski, Director of Multnomah County’s Office of Sustainability, and Jaimes Valdez, Policy Manager at Spark Northwest. The group touched on the urgency of local climate action and how that influences policy decisions. “The impacts of climate change are not some far, distant threat—they are a present threat that is growing more drastic every day. So in response, our public policy prerogative is to move faster, push more to reach our goals,” noted Mr. Wasiutynski. Mayor Gamba highlighted climate action planning efforts in Milwaukie, such as a new, net-zero-carbon library and net-zero-carbon, low-income housing developments. All panelists also pointed out the importance of approaching the transition with a focus on equity. “Part of what we need to do is to shift our lens and look at the ways renewable energy can serve people, not just the system… to create a more participatory energy economy, not just a clean energy economy,” remarked Mr. Valdez.
To round out the day, a group of energy and technology innovation experts discussed technological advances in the energy sector and how market dynamics and policy frameworks either hinder or support continued innovation. Tom Starrs, Vice President of Market Strategy and Policy at SunPower, framed the conversation by saying, “the grid of the past, and the grid of the present, will not be the grid of the future.” He discussed how we initially developed our energy infrastructure, asking utilities to manipulate the supply of energy in order to reliably and affordably meet the demand from consumers. Mr. Starrs urged that it is now time to flip the paradigm—to manipulate the demand for energy to better align with the available supply as we integrate more variable and distributed resources onto the grid.
To support this theory, Anna Chittum, Business Development Segment Manager at NW Natural, noted that her dream “would be an IRP [integrated resource plan] that was cross-sectoral, maybe throughout the whole region.” She argued that a more comprehensive approach would better integrate new technologies into the system, such as NW Natural’s renewable natural gas and power-to-gas technologies, which the gas utility is in the process of piloting. Macdara Nash, Head of Commercial Development for National Grid, agreed. “If we don’t start thinking with a broader focus, we’ll find it more challenging to hit our objectives.” In other words, our planning must become more comprehensive, more collaborative, and more strategic as storage and alternative fuels come onto the system. Manal Yamout, Senior Vice President of Policy at Advanced Microgrid Solutions, added that the storage industry is experiencing incredible advances in technology. “What we are seeing with behind-the-meter batteries today is like the demand response of everyone’s dreams: firm, dispatchable, reliable, no customer fatigue.” And when battery technology pairs with the latest innovations in software programming, “you get a more effective and a more nimble grid. You start to more appropriately and efficiently use all the resources that you have today.”
The full day of engaging discussion left us with a lot to think about and excitement for what’s to come in terms of technological innovation, ambitious policy goals, and ways to rethink existing energy markets. We are incredibly appreciative to everyone who helped us to make this event a success, including our speakers, our advisors, our volunteers, and the Lewis & Clark staff and faculty. Thank you to Genny Rumancik photography for capturing the amazing photos for the day. We would also like to thank our sponsors for their generous support of our work and this event:
For those who are interested in learning more about some of the concepts discussed throughout the day, please see the supplemental reading material posted below:
Green New Deal discussions
- What is the Green New Deal and is it technically possible? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/dec/29/green-new-deal-plans-proposal-ocasio-cortez-sunrise-movement
- Draft Text For Proposed Addendum to House Rules for 116th Congress of the United States, available at: https://biotech.law.lsu.edu/blog/FINAL-Select-Committee-for-a-Green-New-Deal-1-1.pdf
- House Resolution Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal, available at: https://biotech.law.lsu.edu/blog/Green-New-Deal-FINAL.pdf
State energy policy:
- Oregon Department of Energy 2018 Biennial Energy Report available at: https://www.oregon.gov/energy/Data-and-Reports/Documents/2018-Biennial-Energy-Report.PDF
- Welton, Shelly, Public Energy, 2016, available at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2763915
- Murthy, Sharmila L., States and Cities as “Norm Sustainers”: A Role for Subnational Actors in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Virginia Environmental Law Journal Vol. 37, available at: http://www.velj.org/uploads/1/2/7/0/12706894/final.murthy.initialized.pdf
- Zachary Liscow and Quentin Karpilow, Innovation Snowballing and Climate Law, Washington University Law Review Volume 95 Issue 2, 2017, available at: https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=6279&context=law_lawreview
- FERC Order 841 Electric Storage Participation in Markets Operated by Regional Transmission Organizations and Independent System Operators, available at: https://www.ferc.gov/whats-new/comm-meet/2018/021518/E-1.pdf
Governor Brown Keynote:
- LC 894 establishing the Oregon Climate Action Program, available at: https://olis.leg.state.or.us/liz/2019R1/Downloads/CommitteeMeetingDocument/155934
Local 100% Renewable Commitments:
- Michael Steinhoff, ICLEI-USA Powerpoint presentation
- Ryan Cook, Cadmus Group, Powerpoint presentation
- Pacific Northwest Pathways to 2050, available at: https://www.nwnatural.com/uploadedFiles/E3_NWN_PATHWAYS_ExecutiveSummary_Clean_20181107.pdf