Balancing our energy needs, the environment and wildlife protection—while creating jobs and boosting rural economies—is something we can achieve. Clean, renewable energy has the opportunity to be a catalyst for change in how America plans for our energy future. These messages and others were reinforced by western energy leaders who paid a visit to Washington recently. Just days after the President released his FY13 Budget that proposes increased investment in renewable research, planning, and incentives, state voices spoke about why getting renewable energy done right matters for special places and for the economy the West.
Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter, Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy (CNEE) at Colorado State University was one of three leaders who spoke at a press briefing and at a bi-partisan event on Capitol Hill sponsored by Representatives Polis (D-CO), Lujan (D-NM) and Gosar (R-AZ). Ritter was joined by two former public utility commissioners, Kris Mayes—Chairwoman of the Arizona Corporation Commission from 2003-2010 and now faculty at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, and Timothy Hay, a former Commissioner to the Nevada Public Utilities Commission. Hay was also Nevada’s Consumer Advocate, working on behalf of ratepayers.
Ritter, Mayes and Hay have been instrumental in implementing state renewable portfolio standards that have created market incentives to get projects on the ground. An aggressive focus on energy conservation and efficiency in all three states has also been part of strategies to put people back to work and to save money. These western leaders are attune to what voters care about–conserving wild landscapes, while bolstering the economy by transitioning to renewables and investing in energy efficiency.
A few themes emerged from their remarks, including the need for consistent financing and greater certainty for siting projects, as well as key state and federal market drivers such as a national plan for greenhouse gas emissions. Governor Ritter made a request from Washington for more investment certainty for renewable energy projects, stating “there are a lot of people who are still very willing to invest in clean energy and clean energy development .… there’s too much investment uncertainty.” Kris Mayes echoed that these investments can pay dividends down the road in reduced costs for electricity; citing Arizona’s aggressive 22% energy efficiency standard by 2020 that will save Arizona ratepayers $9 billion dollars.
Mayes also hit on another important point—that renewable energy should continue to be a bi-partisan issue. Her call to action was directed at members of her party who “are opposing renewable energy and have seemed to come to the conclusion that this is something Democrats support. They couldn’t be more wrong. My colleagues on the Hill need to understand that their constituents overwhelmingly believe we need to move to a clean energy economy and that this is our economic destiny.”
Wind and solar incentives have received more bi-partisan support as of late because renewable energy manufacturing and projects have become important drivers in the American economy. Nearly all members of the Colorado delegation sent a letter to House and Senate leadership recently encouraging the extension of the Production Tax Credit, which has been largely responsible for a growth in investment in wind and has the potential to create thousands more wind manufacturing jobs in the state. A similar bi-partisan letter was penned by all representatives from Iowa the following week.
Getting projects built relies on more than bi-partisan support for renewables and fiscal certainty; it also takes good planning, upfront environmental review, and early stakeholder engagement. Efforts to tackle these three issues have been underway since 2009 through the BLM’s solar energy programmatic EIS. When asked about this solar planning effort, Nevadan Tim Hay offered that “the PEIS process is critically important to us … making sure that [our] county and local regulatory bodies are plugged in in a way they can engage in the dialogues early on, particularly on transmission issues. It is a large task to coordinate the various entities but the federal government taking the lead on that has certainly been helpful.”
The Wilderness Society has advocated in forums across the West that the best way to protect wild places is to identify resources conflicts early in the process. TWS also supports alternatives to new energy development such as efficiency, conservation and demand-side solutions. The visit to Washington by these important western leaders was a re-affirmation that western citizens recognize that good planning, increased financial certainty, and market drivers are important and connected paths to getting environmentally-responsible renewable energy permitted and built.