Ritter-led panel discusses US renewable energy policy

Closing the World Renewable Energy Forum (WREF) last week was a panel led by former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter (D) discussing how state policies in the U.S. are leading the country’s charge for adding solar into the grid. The panel was comprised of energy policy experts from Colorado, Maryland and Washington state. Each state has made significant steps in cleaning up their energy supply, from Colorado’s renewable portfolio standard and Maryland’s goals to Washington state’s efforts to invest in energy efficiency.

Under Ritter’s leadership Colorado increased its RPS standard to 30 percent by 2020 with wide support from the public and the State Assembly. To get there took a lot of policy work. “Our experience in Colorado is that policy is absolutely critical for states to abel to create that kind of ecosystem that's necessary to move that energy agenda,” he said. “It's important to think about this from all aspects…It's important for there to be leadership at the state that understands clean energy and developing an ecosystem.” That included developing a cabinet in the governor's office that understands and supports clean energy.

The hardest part was getting business on board with clean energy. “Quite frankly because we were an oil and gas state and there were a lot of people who viewed it as a zero-sum game. Everything we were trying to do to promote renewables, they felt was a deprivation of the marketshare that they enjoyed,” Ritter said. While the coal industry felt left out in the cold, the natural gas industry eventually came to see that it could work with the renewables industry, he said.

Tom Plant, Vice President of State Policy at Advanced Energy Economy and the Director of the Governor’s Energy Office under Ritter, discussed how can rethink the of energy delivery system in the U.S. That rethink will include modernizing the utility business leveraging today’s technologies. “Central to that is an acknowledgement that not all kilowatt hours are the same,” Plant said.

“There is an inherent value in a kilowatt hour that doesn't need water, an inherent value in a kilowatt hour that doesn't emit carbon, doesn't emit particulates, doesn't emit NOx and SOx. There's an inherent value of a kWh that's dispatchable. All these characteristics of a kilowatt hour that we do not capture right now. The business model we create in the future for utilities are going to acknowledge that value and so we're no longer socializing the cost of energy and privatizing the benefits, but we're actually incorporating all of those into a market mechanism that actually pays for the power as work.”

Also speaking at the panel was Malcolm Woolf, executive director of the Maryland Energy Administration. Woolf discussed how states are leading renewable energy policy advancements throughout the U.S. Each state has its own unique story, economy and resources, which means that each one must create policy that meets its needs at the state level rather than the federal level. “Don't expect a whole lot of innovation to come out of Washington, D.C. It hasn't been there in the last several years, I don't think it will be there in the next several years,” he said. “I'm very optimistic about innovation coming out of the states. I think that's where a lot of renewable energy innovations come out of.”

In Maryland, for instance, the state has set a goal of 20 percent renewables by 2022. The state’s challenges include expensive energy, the limited natural solar resources and infrastructure challenges. Since the state started enacting clean energy policy, it’s upped its renewable energy sources to about 7 percent with about 45 megawatts of solar installed. By the end of the year, the state plans to have 100 megawatts of solar online.

The state has worked toward policies that reduce peak demand. “We've saved over 1600 megawatts from peak demand. We’ve been paid over $7 million,” Woolf said. The state already has signed contracts for additional peak demand reduction and shaving for residential and commercial sectors for 2014, which will pay out $200 million more.

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