Dealing with the fundamental challenge of global warming and ending the direct and painful impact of fossil fuel-fired power plants on our communities and our families will mean systemic and systematic change to all aspects of our energy system – and doing that will mean employing a wide range of tools and strategies.
A first tool we must employ is already in our hands: efficient and smart use of energy in our homes and businesses. Confronting the effects and implications of energy production can and must lead us to move forward policies that encourage both conservation (simply using less energy) as well as efficiency (getting more from the energy we continue to use).
Another critical element in our arsenal for reducing emissions is the large, deep and pervasive deployment of clean energy generation. Zero emissions electricity generation will take a wide range of forms and come in every imaginable size – from the smallest solar power installation to the largest wind farm. Replacing the mammoth fleet of coal, oil and gas burning power plants that have kept the lights on for the last century will require a deep and abiding effort to find and embrace every reasonable opportunity to make clean energy.
Recently, I had the chance to participate in an online presentation about a tool that is needed to accommodate and make full use of our clean generation potential: electric transmission to bring clean energy from wind farms to the urban customers who can make use of that power.
The webinar was put together by Americans for a Clean Energy Grid – a group that brings together environmental groups and industry voices in support of renewable energy development as part of a series of such events they were convening to discuss developments in different regions. The slides and an audio recording from that event are still available online.
The story told that day is one of change – a change from the past when transmission was built almost entirely to meet the needs of electric reliability and satisfy rising demand for electricity to a new world where efficiency has ended such “load growth” and transmission is being built more and more to either move wind power from Northern New England or to import hydropower into the region from Canada to serve as “firming power” during times of less wind.
This change will not be easy or simple and it must be done right. Imports of hydropower from Canada may or may not be part of the solution set we need – and any proposal to build transmission for that purpose must be carefully scrutinized and integrated into our planning for meeting the climate driven emissions reductions mandates on the books across the region. This caution is even more true of natural gas infrastructure, whether it be pipelines or new power plants. Keeping our eye on the prize of meeting our climate and reliability goals in a sane and cost-effective manner will drive a push for greater efficiency, local clean generation and a measured amount of transmission to support bringing large-scale renewable energy (and wind in particular) to market.