Spring 2019 Clean & Affordable Energy Conference Digest
A tailwind in the Northwest behind clean and affordable energy
On May 3, the NW Energy Coalition hosted its Spring 2019 Clean & Affordable Energy Conference in Boise. Conference guests participated in discussions and presentations on the growing synergy between governments and private industry in the drive for clean energy, the challenge of reducing peak loads, and the growing focus on the need to address energy issues as part of the effort to save salmon and orca populations, which are on the verge of extinction. The conference opened with a panel discussion of the growing role energy efficiency and renewable resources are playing in enhancing the quality of life and creating opportunity in tribal communities.
Panel 1: Tribal Clean Energy Strategies
- Moderator: Wendy Gerlitz, NW Energy Coalition
- Tiffany Allgood, Coeur D’Alene Tribe
- Margie Schaff, Kanim Associates, LLC.
Margie Schaff of Kanim Associates, a consultancy that helps tribal governments explore and develop energy opportunities, provided an overview of more than 40 federal Department of Energy programs that offer a combined $70+ million in funding for tribal energy projects. That figure does not include an even larger pool of funds available from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Schaff explained that the primary challenges facing tribes hoping to access those resources are requirements for matching funding and the need for expertise in grant writing and project design.
But, when those challenges are met, the benefits of the resulting projects improve the lives of tribal community residents in a multitude of ways. That story was told by Tiffany Allgood of the Coeur D’Alene Tribe, who described how, starting in 2009 with an energy audit, the tribe developed an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy and an Integrated Resource Management Plan.
Those plans provided a blueprint for a series of energy and energy efficiency-related projects that are ongoing and that so far include the renovation of the community’s grocery store, upgrades to the Tribe’s Senior Housing Complex, and an accompanying solar energy project. In addition to improving customer experiences, the upgrades are saving the community thousands of dollars annually on utility bills and significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Energy Leadership Forum: Corporate and Government Momentum for Clean Electricity
- Moderator: Nancy Hirsh, NW Energy Coalition
- Darrel Anderson, Idaho Power
- Amber Bieg, Warm Springs Consulting
- Lauren McLean, Boise City Council
No region of the country has seen a greater convergence of governments, businesses, and utilities taking up the challenge of transitioning to a clean energy system. That’s especially true in Idaho where the state’s largest utility, Idaho Power, recently announced that it will become emission-free by the year 2045.
Idaho Power CEO, Darrel Anderson, explained his company’s reasons for taking a decision that caught many by surprise. Foremost among those, according to Anderson, are the increasingly attractive economics of renewable energy combined with demand from customers, particularly from those in the business sector.
That doesn’t mean the transition will be without challenges. Anderson cited the paramount importance of maintaining reliability and the need for further cost reductions for renewables and storage technologies. He also emphasized the need for the development of new transmission and greater market integration in order to efficiently access clean resources such as wind from eastern Montana and solar from California.
Amber Bieg of Warm Springs Consulting provided a business perspective and discussed decisions by Hewlett-Packard, Micron, and Idaho potato farmers to pursue energy efficiency and clean energy both as a matter of cost savings and as a means of burnishing their brands. According to Bieg, the corporate drive to be environmentally responsible and cost-effective has become so great that the availability of clean energy from local utilities is becoming a key criterion for companies that are looking to relocate or expand.
That was a theme upon which Lauren McLean, the president of the Boise City Council, could build. Boise has made a commitment to have a 100% clean electric system by 2035 and, as McLean explained, the decision to do so had to do with concern for the environment, but also with money. “The transition to clean energy will create economic strength and resiliency,” said McLean who went on to point out that the direction is also one that has a high degree of public support in Boise.
While encouraging other governments to “be bold” in the way Boise has been, McLean also emphasized the need for inclusivity and equity as the transition to a clean energy future unfolds.
Panel 2: Energy and Salmon Recovery
- Moderator: Walt Minnick, Partnership for Responsible Growth
- Lynn Best, Seattle City Light
- Joseph Bogaard, Save Our wild Salmon
- Daniel Stone, Shoshone-Bannock Tribes
In recent weeks, advocates for restoring salmon populations in the Northwest and protecting Southern Resident Orca whales who face extinction have been energized by a series of announcements starting with Idaho Governor Brad Little’s announcement that he would convene a working group to examine the issue of salmon recovery and the role that hydroelectric dams, particularly those on the lower Snake River, play in reducing their populations. Little’s announcement was quickly followed by Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson’s call for the region to ask “What if” dam removal is necessary to restore salmon runs. And a week later the Washington state legislature approved a budget that allocated funds for a “stakeholder process” to examine the social and economic implications of dam removal.
This sudden willingness by those in power to consider the possibility of removing four dams that generate about 4% of the region’s energy cause panel moderator and former congressman, Wal Minnick, to ask, “Who will pay?”
Minnick was alluding to the cost of dam removal, which he put somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 million, as well as additional costs to compensate those such as grain farmers, cruise companies, and recreational interests that might be economically harmed by removal of the dams.
Save Our wild Salmon executive director, Joseph Bogaard, took issue with Minnick’s premise pointing out that recent analyses have shown that there may in fact be little or no net cost associated with removing the dams and replacing the power and grid services they provide. At the same time, Bogaard insisted, the region is at a turning point and, because the issue of dam removal is on the table, it’s essential that all stakeholders, including those mentioned by Minnick and others such as tribes, commercial fishermen, and others come together to analyze needs and begin developing strategies to address those needs.
Daniel Stone of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes backed up the conversation a bit to ask, “Who is paying now?” Stone was alluding to the devastating effect the depletion of salmon populations has had on tribal communities many of which traditionally relied on salmon as “a healthy first food” in addition to being a source of commerce and economic opportunity that has, since construction of the dams, been largely lost. The cost, Stone pointed out, is measured not just in dollars, but in the health of people who are disproportionately affected by conditions such as obesity and diabetes.
Acknowledging the economic and social concerns expressed by the moderator and her fellow panelists, Lynn Best, Chief Environmental Officer at Seattle City Light, reminded the audience that these issues will arise only if the power and grid services currently provided by the dams can be replaced affordably, reliably, and with minimal impact on carbon emissions. Speaking as a representative of a utility that operates hydroelectric dams on the Skagit River,
Best expressed support for the conversations that will soon be underway in Idaho and Washington and said she is confident that solutions can be found.
Panel 3: Reducing Summer and Winter Peak Loads
- Moderator: ChadWorth, Energy Solutions
- Juliet Homer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
- Tina Jayaweera, Northwest Power and Conservation Council
- Kerry Meade, Northwest Energy Efficiency Council
- Quentin Nesbitt, Idaho Power
An eternal challenge facing the energy system is how to cost-effectively provide reliable service at times when the demand for electricity reaches peak levels. While most of the time the electric system operates within a fairly narrow load band, peak occasions require added capacity and resources and command a disproportionate share of investment. Consequently, even small reductions in peak demand may result in large financial savings.
The good news, according to the panelists, is that tools to reduce and better manage peaks are proliferating. But, a number of planning, governance, financial, and technical challenges must be addressed if we’re to take full advantage of emerging resources and technology.
Tina Jayaweera of the Northwest Power and Conservation Council put the challenge and opportunity in context by pointing out that, over the next decade, energy efficiency as a capacity and energy resource is expected to preclude the need to construct new generating resources. She went on to say that a fully-realized demand-side capability has the potential to move beyond peak reduction to serve as a flexibility resource. But, barriers stand in the way. Among them is the declining cost of renewable energy, which over time may significantly reduce incentives for utilities and customers to pursue energy efficiency.
Quentin Nesbitt of Idaho Power described demand response (DR) as a resource that his company is already using quite effectively with farmers in the area of irrigation. Similar efforts focused on consumer air conditioning haven’t been as effective, a result Nesbitt attributed to the difficulty of engaging and educating large numbers of customers. Nesbitt emphasized the need to address that challenge and others because, he said, peak loads are currently growing faster than overall loads, which exacerbates electric system inefficiencies.
Juliet Homer of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory expanded on the challenges that stand in the way of optimum demand-side capabilities. Citing the needs for improved distribution system planning, better understanding of how to integrate energy storage capabilities, and the abilities for utilities and regulators to adapt as business models evolve, Homer emphasized the need for cultural change.
Part of that change may come about as a result of an increasingly distributed grid according to Kerry Meade of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Council. Meade explained how “behind the meter” technologies are giving customers an increasing amount of power at the same time their devices and appliances become energy resources in what is becoming a “two way” energy system. It’s all part of what Juliet Homer described as “a more participatory grid” in which non-wires solutions will play an ever greater role.
The challenge will be to develop the business models, incentives, and customer engagement capabilities to make it all possible.