Although Congressional progress on comprehensive energy policy is stagnant, states are moving ahead with visionary clean energy projects and programs of their own.
On June 4, five members of the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA) briefed members of Congress, congressional staffers, and other stakeholders on a selection of their recent policies, projects, and projects. The briefing was held in conjunction with the Environmental and Energy Studies Institute (EESI).
A recording of this event is available here.
Sara Fisher-Goad of the Alaska Energy Authority briefed the standing-room-only crowd on her state’s Susitna-Watana hydropower project. The project site is located on the Susitna River and is 22-32 river miles upstream from Devil’s Canyon, which acts as a natural fish passage deterrent. When completed, energy generated from the dam will serve about 80 percent of the state’s population. Fisher-Goad estimated that 1,000 jobs will be created during the project’s construction phase.
“We’re not talking going 100 percent hydro. Diversification of our resources is very important,” Fisher-Goad said. “In Alaska, energy costs and resources vary greatly by region. Many areas are diesel-dependent, and some people in Alaska pay $1 per kilowatt hour for electricity. … The 50-year average rate projection for Susitna-Watana is 6 cents per kilowatt hour.”
Commissioner Andrew McAllister of the California Energy Commission shared the success of his state’s customer-side solar efforts through the California Solar Initiative.
“California has huge goals for energy efficiency and renewable energy. Gov. Jerry Brown has set a goal of 12,000 megawatts of localized renewable energy supply by 2020,” McAllister said. “We’re scaling up solar on new and existing buildings tremendously. Public private partnerships are here to stay.”
The California Solar Initiative is a $3.5 billion effort by the California Public Utilities Commission to get more solar on rooftops in the state. And it’s working: In 2011, California became the first state to surpass the 1,000 megawatt mark for customer-side installed solar capacity. To date, the state has seen more than 151,000 installations, representing 1,565 megawatts of installed capacity.
The California Solar Initiative’s ultimate goal is to reach 3,000 megawatts of customer-installed solar, and to establish a state-wide solar industry. With more than 25,000 jobs created already, the program is off to a promising start.
McAllister stressed the importance of federal policies: “The federal government really is a key partner in this. The federal investment tax credit is extremely valuable to businesses and investors. We need continuity on that over time.”
Andy Brydges gave the audience an overview of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s overwhelmingly successful Solarize Mass program, which has driven commitments to install more than 5,000 megawatts of community solar electricity capacity. Thirty-one communities in Massachusetts have participated in the program to date; communities choose contractors, provide a “solar coach” who can answer 90 percent of questions, and empower volunteers to encourage their neighbors to join. The larger the installation, the better the price.
Brydges, who is transitioning to a new job with Connecticut’s Clean Energy Finance and Investment Authority (CEFIA), also presented about Solarize Connecticut, a parallel but similar effort to increase investment in residential solar in that state. According to CEFIA, the effort has been a similar success story: “This has driven the solar payback period down to just over six years. Now the challenge is to make solar more affordable for low-income customers. CEFIA, as a green bank, has created a solar loan program — and a variety of other financing packages — to help.
Anne Eisele, Chief of Staff of the Maryland Energy Administration, shared details of her state’s groundbreaking offshore wind legislation, which was signed into law in April 2013. The bill mandates construction of a 200-500 megawatt ratepayer-supported wind farm off the coast of Ocean City, MD. Using a $30 million Offshore Wind Development Fund, formed during a settlement of the merger between Exelon and Constellation Energy, the state will conduct research and gather data that will give more confidence to developers.
Eisele said Maryland aims to reduce energy demand by 15 percent by 2015 and to generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Building an offshore wind farm will help the state reach that ambitious goal. Furthermore, Maryland offshore wind will develop the state’s ports and its manufacturing sector, adding jobs for highly skilled laborers and engineers.
The final presenter was Lewis Milford, President of Clean Energy Group (CEG) and the founder of CESA, who stressed the need for the federal government to provide better credit enhancement support to states. Through CEG’s partnership with the Council of Development Finance Agencies (CDFA), Milford has worked to create the Clean Energy and Bond Finance Initiative (CE+BFI) and advance a model for improved credit enhancement, called the State Clean Energy Finance Initiative.
Milford also discussed the need for “resilient power” and a modernized electricity grid to support homes, businesses, and large institutions in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.
“Hurricane Sandy has changed the political dynamic about doing something,” Milford said. “It doesn’t matter whether you believe in climate change or not. Governors in the Northeast are putting serious money into revolving loan funds and taking this seriously.”
Milford said the federal and state governments should mandate investments in critical facilities, such as hospitals and research institutions.
“Why doesn’t NIH do more to make sure entities like NYU Medical School don’t go black? Millions of dollars of medical research, done with your public money, were lost when Sandy hit,” Milford said. “Maybe you all lost the cure for cancer, because in the basement of NYU Medical School there were millions of genetically engineered mice that were designed for specific cancer tests, and they were all destroyed. Is that worth a little money? Maybe so.”
The presenters took several questions from the audience at the briefing’s conclusion, sharing more expertise and insight from their on-the-ground experience.
“Energy is a critical issue for our economy, for our nation, and obviously is on the front burner of so much that is discussed,” said Carol Werner of EESI. “It is only through understanding the kinds of investments that are happening across the country that we can think of the potential we have when we work together.”