On Friday, the day started with the heavy news that the US Supreme Court ruled that corporations have no spending limits in campaigns. Up until then, the general mood was that bringing about a new green economy would be an uphill battle, but that with hard work and determination, we can make steady gains. With this ruling, though, it was clear that the mood sank. There was a sense of alarm, a little bit of despair, but also more aggressive energy. The speeches got more motivational rather than educational. At times it was like a political rally or demonstration. When people start feeling like underdogs they get more spiritual, too. You need your leaders more than when you are doing well. Kind of like how Native Americans and black churches seem so spiritual as opposed to prim and proper WASPS, or at least that's my perspective on things. I don't think anyone would describe me as spiritual, though.
The first event of the day was a Moderated Roundtable on the New Green Economy: Moving from Theory to Action.
It was moderated by Mark Bernstein, the Energy Institute at the University of Southern California, and there were 4 speakers. Len Peters, Cabinet Secretary of Energy and Environment of Kentucky, Seth Dunn, Director of Renewable Energy Policy of GE Energy, Gary Guzy, White House Council on Environmental Quality, and Jacques Beaudry-Losique, DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
It was really an amazing discussion, but there were a few interesting parts. Peters was pretty focused on energy efficiency and "low hanging fruit." He mentioned that MA is the only other state with an Energy and Environment cabinet secretary. Most states separate energy and the environment. He said that 90% of electricity is coal, and 2/3 of the coal they mine is exported to other states. I would think that he should look more into renewable energy or at least something else for all those coal miners to do. They mentioned that Obama had $80 billion for clean energy in the stimulus plan.
Dunn talked about programs within the company like ecomagination, where people within the company does treasure hunts for energy savings. That was an interesting concept and is a solution to the fact that sometimes it's hard for companies to reduce waste because it's not any one person's responsibility to maximize efficient energy usage. GE has been reducing the energy intensity of the business, and he talked about how they have been doing a lot of R&D and that their renewable and environmental products are moving to the core of the business. We'll see about that.
For comparison, someone mentioned that China has committed to installing 150GW of windpower by 2020. The panel started discussing how oil and coal are heavily subsidized, and it would be helpful to have the prices be more accurate so that renewable power could be more competitive. Cap-and-trade legislation would also help with this because externalities would begin to get incorporated in the price. Beaudry-Losique pointed out, though, that shale gas, which is touted as a low carbon-emitting source of energy, is also subsidized because water is free, and processing the natural gas uses a lot of water.
Dunn mentioned that at GE, they do job tracking. They keep an account of jobs created and jobs disappeared and jobs shipped overseas due to new products. This is a very important concept, and I think it's really necessary for full employment without material growth.
Next I went to a symposium on Renewable Energy: How can we get there.
It was organized by Mark Bernstein, and some people made presentations: Marc L. Ulrich, South California Edison, Jigar Shah, the Carbon War Room, David E. Rogers, DOE, and Bobi Garrett, National Renewable Energy Lab, DOE.
Ulrich gave a presentation about Edison power and their obstacles with providing solar power. He talked about how state's RPS (renewable energy portfolio standards) can help create demand for solar power. I'm not exactly sure how it works, but somehow this is one of the more effective tools that governments have to support renewable energy. RPS goals can choose to favor "bundled" or "unbundled" energy "products". It's good to target broad markets for lower prices, and RPS goals for compliance should be flexible. This is important for jobs. State programs also need to have cost containment measures and identify competitive pricing alternatives to compliance. All load serving entities need to abide by equal rules. States playing favorites amongst companies can be very bad for the taxpayers and businesses.
So steps for states RPS programs:
1. create demand - through legislation and regulatory tools
2. incentivize supply - with tax rebates and loans
4. track the progress
He posted a graph of the biggest obstacles to installing wind power at his company, and number one was transmission, then finance, developer, permitting, and technology.
He talked about something called feed-in tariffs, but I didn't really know what he was saying.
Next Jigar Shah gave a presentation about business models and utility companies. This talk was the most interesting to me.
He first described the current business model of a utility company. They were allowed to be monopolies by the government in return for covering everyone in their area. Utility companies are rate-based so they divide the costs of operation amongst consumers. This means that when something goes over-budget, they just increase the prices for all their customers. Integrated Resource Planning process requires them to have to sell a certain amount of kW/hr. This business model makes utility companies kind of like banks so when people cut down on their energy usage, it is like a bunch of people are running on the bank. I thought that was an interesting analogy. One alternative business model to create an incentive for utilities to move to clean energy is to decouple profit from operations. One problem with that is that then there is no way for companies to grow, so you include an incentive payment. Then the problem is that it may eventually lead to 50% profits so in the long term, it's not a fair business model. Shah states that we need utilities 2.0, and he is convinced that it will be based on distributed power. However, he does not know all the specifics.
The other talks were things that I'm more familiar with so I didn't bother to take notes, actually. I took some notes from the Q&A section, though.
They talked about the need for reduced carbon intensity, which is carbon emissions/$ in order to reduce green house gases.
It's not good for goals set in legislation to be detailed.
They mentioned the company Sun Edison.
They also mentioned value propositions.
Most agreed that cap&trade legislation would help but not enough. They varied in how much they thought it would help. Shah did not think they would help very much. He and Ulrich agreed that incentives are more important. Even large oil and gas companies need incentives to try new things so in some cases, including environmental costs can be prohibitive.
Something that Shah thought was a problem was that environmentalists do not like distributed power, but there will not be a way to have centralized clean energy because it is impossible to allow people to run new transmission lines through their land for a variety of reasons.