Delivering Community Clean Energy
November 17, 2022
Session 3: Siting Issues of New Resources
Before we begin coverage of the second day of the Delivering Community Clean Energy Conference, we’d like to acknowledge that we promoted a community and equity-focused conversation during this panel, and we were unable to fully deliver on that promise. We have learned lessons from this error and will work to directly address this in the future. We apologize for any confusion or harm we may have caused.
The second day of the conference kicked off with a welcome and a thank you to our sponsors from Nancy Hirsh, Executive Director at NW Energy Coalition. Nancy then introduced Chris Connolly, Communications & Events Coordinator at NW Energy Coalition, who gave a brief overview of election results in the Northwest.
Chris then handed it back to Nancy, who introduced Justin Allegro, Policy Director for The Nature Conservancy and moderator for the third session of the conference, Siting Issues of New Resources. Justin passed it off to each of the four panelists for opening remarks.
- Christine Golightly, Policy Analyst, Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC)
- Adam Schultz, Lead for the Electricity and Markets Policy Group, Oregon Department of Energy (ODOE)
- Max Greene, Deputy Director, Renewable Northwest
Christine Golightly gave an overview of CRITFC’s recently released Energy Vision for the Columbia Basin. CRITFC is a commission of the four lower Columbia River Tribes (Umatilla, Yakima, Nez Perce, Warm Springs) that advocates for their fishing interests. The first Energy Vision was released in 2003. The 2022 version hopes to achieve a Columbia Basin electrical system that:
- Supports healthy and harvestable fish and wildlife populations,
- Protects tribal treaty and cultural resources,
- And provides clean, reliable, and affordable electricity,
By focusing on addressing four interconnected issues:
- The climate crisis is underway
- Salmon are at risk of extinction
- The push for a quick transition to carbon-free energy
- Bad energy planning can make the situation worse for salmon
Christine outlined some of the significant Northwest energy system changes that are already occurring. For example, both at the state and federal level, stricter policies and standards governing greenhouse gas emissions have had many impacts, including the ongoing phase-out of coal as an electricity source. Christine also spoke to the strength of energy efficiency in saving customers money in the Northwest, and said that CRITFC would like to see more energy efficiency implemented.
However, during this clean energy transition, CRITFC is most concerned that electricity adequacy issues will lead to increased reliance on the hydrosystem, which in turn, hurts salmon. Christine showed the falling costs of renewable energy technologies, which have led to utilities developing more wind and solar. As an influx of solar power comes onto the grid, some dams (such as the Dalles) hold back waterflow during the middle of the day when solar production is high, saving water for times of low solar production. According to Christine, reducing dam outflow to nearly zero in this way – essentially creating a battery – hurts both juvenile and adult salmon.
Overall, the 2022 Energy Vision has 43 recommendations. One of the key recommendations addresses a major concern of Christine’s and CRITFC’s: siting of transmission and renewable energy. Transmission and renewable energy is prone to be sited in less populated lands, which tend to overlap with Tribal lands. Christine emphasized the need for a regional plan of where renewable resources should be developed, such as near transmission lines or close to load centers (to reduce new transmission lines and costs), in order to avoid conflict with Tribal natural and cultural resources.
Next, Adam Schultz walked through an overview of what is needed for the decarbonization of Oregon. Adam began by emphasizing that decarbonization is possible but will require a large build out of clean energy, which incurs trade-offs. According to Clean Energy Transition Institute’s Deep Decarbonization Pathways Study, it is necessary to both decarbonize the electricity sector while also expanding it by electrifying transportation and buildings. In the Northwest, this will require approximately 80 GW of new solar and wind capacity by 2050, or an average of 2.7 GW every year from now until 2050. In Oregon, on the other hand, about 30 GW of new clean capacity will be needed by 2050.
While this sounds like a daunting task, it is doable. Adam continued by explaining some key next steps that need to be understood and addressed. First, tackling the limits of electrification (for example, on aviation, heavy-duty vehicles, or marine) and how to repurpose gas infrastructure. Second, the scale of clean energy development. What is the role of distributed energy? How do we balance trade-offs of different technologies (for example, offshore wind vs. solar vs. storage)? Adam is excited to lean into these next steps to determine the correct decarbonization pathways for Oregon.
Finally, Max Greene closed out opening remarks. He began by giving an overview of Renewable NW, its membership, and its role as a technically-driven organization. Max then ran through several projections of what the Northwest will need for decarbonization: 3,500 MW by 2027 according to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council; 9,000 MW by 2030 according to the Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee; 16,000-28,000 MW in Washington only by 2050 according to the Washington State Energy Strategy; and 30,000 MW in Oregon only by 2050 according to the Oregon Clean Energy Pathways Study.
Importantly, Max noted the value of a unified electricity market in the West. Without a market, projected generation additions total around 400 GW by 2040. However, with a unified market in the West, that total drops to about 300 GW by 2040. Interconnecting the West will allow utilities to work together, use each other’s resources, and reduce the need for quite as much additional generation. NW Energy Coalition wrote about the importance of markets in our Markets Month 3-part series.
Max then tackled the challenges of the energy transition and how Renewable NW is trying to address them. First, the energy transition is complicated, with many different analyses that often have conflicting information. Renewable NW is working to answer the hard questions using plain language. Second, misinformation is spreading but Renewable NW is creating fact sheets, giving important context to decision-makers, and building relationships to counter that misinformation. Third, tradeoffs are hard and Renewable NW is facilitating conversations amongst diverse stakeholders to find least conflict solutions. Fourth, transmission is limited. Max and his team are working to unlock capacity on the existing system while supporting more integrated regional transmission planning. And finally, change is hard but Renewable NW is engaging in big conversations in Oregon and Washington to find the sweet spot compromise that works for all stakeholders.
Following opening remarks, Justin opened up the Q&A session by asking about community and equity issues around developing new clean energy projects at the pace needed.
Adam tackled the question first by explaining that he begins conversations with all communities by outlining the scale of clean energy development that is needed for decarbonization. There is often a disconnect, and grounding everyone in the modeled generation need helps facilitate tough conversations.
Max followed up by talking about the need to proactively address the impacts of the clean energy transition, including allowing stakeholders and communities sufficient input to the process. Max also brought up the struggle of developing legislation that allows robust community input, but not to the point of roadblocking the clean energy transition.
Christine jumped in to highlight staffing issues in Tribal communities. Many tribes have one natural resources staffer and are not able to adequately engage with every clean energy project that impacts their community.
Justin took a question from the audience, asking panelists to address the considerations around transmission.
Max began by emphasizing the serious constraint of the transmission system. Renewable NW is interested in first unlocking capacity on the current transmission system, while also recognizing that we will need more transmission. He highlighted the likelihood that the upcoming Washington legislative session will address this issue.
Justin pivoted to a question about how to use mapping tools that have been developed by both Oregon and Washington to best site new renewable projects.
Christine encouraged a regional planning approach to renewable siting and agreed that mapping tools could be helpful in that planning process. As an example, Christine highlighted the transmission line from Colstrip that could be connected to Montana wind projects in order to deliver clean energy across the Cascades in the winter, when it is most needed at population centers.
Justin identified another question from the audience about the role of distributed energy resources in the clean energy transition, specifically rooftop solar.
Adam said that one aggressive model by the National Renewable Energy Lab showed that about 30% of buildings in Southern California could have rooftop solar by 2050, but still found the need for significant large scale renewable energy. Distributed energy can play a role in resilience and reducing transmission needs, but rooftop solar also leads to costlier energy prices for customers.
Justin then asked the panel what their view is on state and local siting and permitting reform.
Max started by talking about potential legislation in Washington that could create streamlined permitting for certain technologies in order to reduce the need for some project-specific processing. He also raised the idea of siting along current right-of-ways to speed up development timelines. Finally, Max explained that land use goals in Oregon are outdated and do not acknowledge climate change or clean energy targets. Renewable NW hopes to update land use goals to reflect current needs.
Justin closed out the Q&A with a question about storage, which Adam addressed, highlighting that one of the key benefits of batteries is their ability to be moved. He also explained that California had 0 MW of connected batteries in 2020 but now has more than 4,000 MW of connected batteries. Adam expects that same growth to occur in the Northwest.