A Word From the Executive Director
One of the most exciting trends in the renewable energy field is the growing number of Fortune 500 companies and other large energy users that are committing to power their operations with renewables. Accompanying these commitments is meaningful action. Earlier this month, the Business Renewables Center of the Rocky Mountain Institute released a report showing that 2017 was the second-best year in history for non-utility renewable energy deals in the U.S., with deals representing an impressive 2.78 gigawatts of new capacity.
Corporate buyers often state that their top reasons forchoosing renewables are low costs, price certainty, and demand from their customers. This message from the corporate buyers applies much more broadly. Now that renewables are truly the most cost-competitive energy source in many parts of the country, how could anyone justify not providing Americans the clean energy they want and deserve?
In fact, no one is making a serious attempt at arguing against the benefits of renewable energy, but there are powerful forces slowing adoption. Incumbent energy sources have significant inertia on their side: Aging grid infrastructure is not able to accommodate the influx of cheap renewables. Market rules were written at a time when renewables had no significant presence on the landscape and often serve as barriers to entry. Many utilities are making far-reaching procurement decisions without the latest information about renewables’ cost declines and the grid services they provide, both on their own and when paired with storage.
To address these market barriers, this spring WEF is launching the A Renewable America (ARA) Grid Campaign. In partnership with the American Wind Energy Association and Solar Energy Industries Association, we are mobilizing the most knowledgeable and effective voices for expanding and modernizing the grid at the Regional Transmission Organizations (RTOs), Public Utility Commissions, and other key policy venues. Initially the campaign will focus on the central U.S. and Mid-Atlantic where there are substantial opportunities for adding low-cost wind and solar energy and reducing carbon pollution. Stay tuned for regular updates on our efforts to ensure that the nation’s energy and infrastructure policies provide optimal conditions for the accelerated deployment of renewables.
A Renewable America
ARA Transmission Work
As noted in the previous WEF quarterly newsletter, our multi-sector ARA campaign released a report in late 2017 in collaboration with David Gardiner & Associates (DGA) entitled Transmission Needed to Meet Corporate America’s Growing Demand for Renewables. The report finds that continued access to the most affordable renewable energy is at risk because the key entities charged with planning transmission, the RTOs, have not factored in voluntary commitments by large buyers in their planning.
The good news since the issuance of that report is that RTOs are beginning to take notice of this planning challenge. At a webinar focused on our report organized by Americans for a Clean Energy Grid, Eli Massey, Senior Advisor at the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), joined representatives from Unilever and DGA to discuss the gap in transmission planning. In a follow-up story in the trade publication RTO Insider, he indicated that because MISO models renewables penetration at 30 percent of electricity supply, growing corporate demand is anticipated. It remains unclear, however, whether MISO is explicitly considering corporate demand and whether it is working toward a transmission build that meets the 30 percent scenario.
Other RTOs signaled that they are not yet persuaded about the need to plan for corporate demand. Lanny Nickell, the Vice President of Engineering for the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) and PJM spokesman Ray Dotter both suggested to RTO Insider that proactively building transmission capacity to anticipate future corporate procurement is too speculative. Given the lengthy time lag between the launch of transmission planning and the availability of new or upgraded transmission lines, this approach will probably not satisfy the near-term corporate demand for low-cost renewables. As noted in our report, U.S. corporates have publicly committed to procuring an additional 50 gigawatts of renewable power by 2025. WEF will continue to partner with corporate buyers and other allies on working with RTOs to update transmission planning to address corporate renewables goals.
WEF’s report was featured on the cover of the March/April issue of Electric Energy T&D Magazine, which included a column by John Kostyack and David Gardiner challenging corporate buyers to increase their engagement at the RTOs. Coverage of the webinar in Forbes and Platts also helped raise the profile of this critical issue.
ARA Jobs Tour
A key focus of ARA is recruiting, training, and mobilizing renewable energy companies and their supply chains to educate the public and key decision makers on the economic benefits of solar and wind energy. In recent months, the ARA Jobs Tour has made stops in North Carolina and New Mexico to highlight the job creation and other economic benefits of the two technologies.
In North Carolina, Cypress Creek Renewables announced a workforce development partnership with Cape Fear Community College to train the next generation of solar workers at an ARA event. Congressman David Rouzer (R-7) attended and spoke, along with two state representatives.
The state added 500 solar jobs last year and is one of the fastest growing solar markets in the nation. The event was covered by local broadcast and print (#1, #2) outlets, and Rep. Rouzer spoke glowingly about the event and the job creation of the North Carolina solar industry on his Facebook page. ARA boosted that post in his and other key federal and state districts in the state, reaching over 10,000 North Carolinians. In total, Jobs Tour social media posts have now been viewed over 850,000 times.
In New Mexico, ARA assisted AWEA with on the ground press support for the release of its Annual Market report. The event was held at the New Mexico state capitol, in recognition of the state’s rapid growth of wind power last year. The wind industry added 3,000 new jobs last year to reach 105,500 in total industry employment. The event was covered locally by the Albuquerque Journal, KRQE-ABQ (CBS), KOAT-ABQ (ABC), and the Grant County Beat.
ARA battles wind development restrictions
In Ohio, ARA is continuing work to educate the public and key decision-makers on the economic benefits of fixing the state’s overly restrictive property setback law that is blocking new wind energy development. We released our latest report on the topic – Tale of Two Projects: Ohio’s Wind Setback Law Is Blocking Economic Opportunity for Rural Communities – in early April at a press conference in the Ohio Statehouse. Representative Bill Reineke (R-88) joined Senator Matt Dolan (R-24), county commissioners, economic development officials, a school superintendent, and a rural landowner at the event. These supporters all spoke about the local economic benefits of wind energy development in the state and the need for a legislative fix to the setback law. Rep. Reineke specifically committed to “shepherding [the Senate version of the bill to fix the setbacks] when it comes over to the House.”
The event was covered by the state’s two daily political journals, the Gongwer and the Hannah News Service, as well as Ohio NPR (#1, #2), the Advertiser Tribune, the Ohio House Republicans blog, and by national trade press (#1, #2, and #3). With a continued drumbeat of support from key constituencies, we are hopeful that the Ohio Legislature will pass legislation to amend the law before the end of this session.
The social media education campaign Electric Nation: Powered by Wind continues to grow and now reaches nearly three-quarters of a million people every month. In the past few months, we have created new features and content to strengthen our audiences’ emotional connection with wind energy. This past month, we debuted a “Wind Worker of the Month” post, featuring Wendy McMillen from EDP Renewables. We will continue to feature new wind worker profiles each month going forward, with a focus on highlight the diverse and growing wind industry workforce.
Many of the over 166,000 followers on our campaign’s Facebook page are also continuing to help disseminate pro-wind messages to their networks and helping to quash anti-wind misinformation, particularly in rural America. Now included within the Electric Nation community are more than 16,000 supporters in rural areas with significant wind development.