By Michael Kuser
BURLINGTON, Vt. — Climate change mingled with politics at last week’s Renewable Energy Vermont Conference and Expo, where state regulators and officials expressed frustration with federal and RTO policies.
While U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) predicted a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives after the mid-term elections, some participants said planetary survival should come before party interests. Others focused on how to deliver cleaner electricity to consumers in New England.
“It’s time to pick up the pace,” said Olivia Campbell Andersen, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont. “Every week brings fresh evidence of the urgency of climate change. Close to home, here in Vermont, not a month goes by where our electric utilities aren’t issuing warnings about the impending extreme weather and power outages.”
With hydropower in Quebec, wind energy in northern New England and offshore wind all relatively far from load centers, transmission infrastructure must be built to move the electricity from producers to consumers, ISO-NE CEO Gordon van Welie said.
“If you love renewable energy, you have to love transmission,” van Welie said.
“The pipeline system built in the 1970s can’t meet the needs of today’s increased use of natural gas,” he said. “For a while I thought the answer was simply to put in more gas infrastructure — an engineer’s approach — but now we look to create a market solution. We propose to change the rules to maintain an energy buffer stock.”
The RTO’s thinking on the subject can be found in a recent report, “Winter Energy Security Improvements: Market-Based Approaches,” prepared for the Oct. 10 meeting of its Markets Committee.
“We want to use market-based incentives not only to supply the energy, but to reduce demand when needed and maintain a buffer stock of energy throughout the winter,” van Welie said. “We have no details yet; we’re in the process of designing this, and I’m bringing this to your attention so that if you’re interested, you can engage in the appropriate forum, which is the [New England Power Pool] stakeholder committees.”
The main idea is to move from the day-ahead market to a rolling, seven-day-ahead market, he said.
“We want to value energy that’s available today, that can be used today, but also seven days from now,” van Welie said. “And we want to purchase these commitments well ahead of the winter season so that we can stimulate investment in the right fuel arrangements, and ultimately the technologies that can actually deliver this type of service.”
Vermont Public Utility Commissioner Margaret Cheney said ISO-NE is “inevitably a partner because our missions overlap somewhat,” but there’s been “a disconnect in getting the RTO to recognize our in-state distributed generation in their long-range planning forecasts.”
Rhode Island Public Utilities Commissioner Abigail Anthony said the RTO wants states in the region “to understand that their priority is reliability. I want ISO New England to understand that climate change is our state’s priority and to take that seriously.”
Lorraine Akiba, former Hawaii Public Utilities Commissioner, recounted sitting through the ISO-NE presentation and seeing “the lack of any planning for including more distributed energy resources into the ISO capacity portfolio, while others — California ISO in particular is a good example … they’re already into the market with energy storage and distributed generation from the utilities in that footprint, so it’s doable. You just have to conceptualize it. I think PJM has already started that as well.”
It’s also important to address Rhode Island’s concern about reliability versus climate change, Akiba said.
“Resiliency is the ultimate reliability, and because of climate change, resiliency is the key,” Akiba said. “We’ve heard repeatedly … resilience is what we need to do in the face of climate change. We’re going to try to stop the effect of climate change in the next 12 years, but we’ve been reminded that in the course of doing that, we also have to have adaptation strategies to deal with the extreme weather and the consequences of what we have failed to do up to now.”
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott said, “Three of our electrical utilities are now 100% renewable, and our largest utility is 60% renewable and 90% carbon-free. We now expect to get at least 75% of our electric supply from renewable energy sources by 2032, and we’re putting in place a standard that … is the most ambitious in the U.S.”
Welch said that despite President Trump’s denial, in “every state and every region, people know just by what they’re seeing that climate change is real, and our failure to act is suicidal. … A confident country doesn’t deny the existence of a problem; a confident country assesses it, analyzes it and solve it. That’s what you do, and it’s in that effort that you then create wealth.”
He contended that a few people doing fine in the carbon-based economy, such as the Koch brothers, are going to fight any effort to transition to a clean energy economy, no matter the consequences to others, but that the upside is jobs created in facing the challenge.
Vermont Senate President pro tempore Tim Ashe said, “We suspect something different is happening … but still in Vermont, despite our ethic … there’s still a sense that this is really a problem mostly acutely experienced by others, not by us.”
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, who owns a farm just south of Burlington, said rain that used to fall steadily now comes in torrential downpours, if at all.
“This year it stopped raining in May, and we drained one pond, and then another, and there was no more water to put on the crops. So now this fall, we have 30,000 fewer pounds of food,” Zuckerman said.
He contrasted his situation this year with that of a friend who farms in Shaftsbury, 80 miles south, who said it wouldn’t stop raining, and that they had too much water.
Marc Pacheco, president pro tempore of the Massachusetts Senate, said that while his state has made itself a leader in clean energy and energy efficiency, climate change is becoming more urgent every day.
He recalled talking recently to a friend in Portugal, where Hurricane Leslie had hit last month.
“It’s the first time in 174 years we’ve seen hurricane activity in that part of the Atlantic, heading into the Iberian Peninsula,” Pacheco said. “It’s crazy that we as political leaders … why we have not put into law the concrete statutes that need to be there and need to be met in order to protect not just our climate, but human public health.”
Jared Duval of advocacy group Energy Action Network said, “From the evidence that we have reviewed, it appears that the states that have made the most progress are the ones that have renewable policies with teeth.”
Mackay Miller, formerly with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and now National Grid’s director of U.S. strategy, said “One thing we are now realizing is that the prospects for a strong federal policy are dim … but at the state level, we can move markets if we move together.”
Dan Sosland of Acadia Center said, “We have the will; we need the political will.”
Marie-Claude Francoeur, Quebec’s delegate to New England, reminded the audience that “climate change knows no borders.”
Quebec didn’t join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative “because 99% of our electricity comes from renewable energy, hydropower, so RGGI would not achieve our goals,” Francoeur said.
Transportation accounts for about 45% of carbon emissions in Quebec, which began taxing carbon at the distribution level in 2006 with a levy on fossil fuels. Now, with California, it participates in the Western Climate Initiative economy-wide carbon pricing scheme, “investing 100% of the proceeds into greenhouse gas pollution reduction,” she said.