On Tuesday, August 30 the National Clean Energy Summit was held in Las Vegas, Nevada. The first panel of the afternoon was on “Western Clean Energy Efforts” and featured Governors Brian Sandoval of Nevada, Jerry Brown of California, and Christine Gregoire of Washington. The moderator was former White House Chief of Staff and president of the Center for American Progress, John Podesta. The full video of the panel discussion is split in two parts which may be seen here and here. The following is a summary of the panel discussion.
Western Clean Energy Efforts
Governor Jerry Brown: “The sun is to California what oil is to Texas,” and we have a lot more sun than they have oil. These things start small, grow big, and we’re never not going to need energy.
Governor Christine Gregoire: I’m excited because my state of Washington is leading in renewable energy. We’re the 4th largest wind producer in the country, we’re a leader in solar photovoltaics, and we’ll have charging stations for electric vehicles. We plan to map renewable zones and wildlife corridors, and we’re in the process of putting together a Western transmission plan. We’d be very naÃ¯ve to sit back and do nothing simply because we’re in a recession.
John Podesta: On charging stations, I think a lot of people would be surprised that you can now recharge electric vehicles in 20 minutes with the right technology. Governor Brian Sandoval, your state of Nevada leads in unemployment”¦
Governor Brian Sandoval: We understand we have a great opportunity in renewable energy and I’ve been personally visiting solar and geothermal sites. Like Washington, Nevada is also looking at renewable energy zones and transmission. Our state is 86% federal land, so we need to have a very good relationship with the federal government to get this accomplished.
John Podesta: Some people argue your renewable energy targets are too ambitious. How do you respond?
Jerry Brown: I think we can make it. The question is whether we can keep the cost down to make it feasible. The price of solar is coming down, so we’re optimistic. We’re also well-positioned with having some of the most intense solar locations in the world. We’re going to crush the opposition or listen to them companionably depending upon the circumstances. (laughter)
John Podesta: Where the sun shines isn’t always where the people are, so how difficult are the transmission issues for you?
Brian Sandoval: Our office of energy is working on these transmission corridors as we speak. We intend to work with California on these issues.
John Podesta: How are you dealing with larger transmission issues on a regional scale?
Christine Gregoire: We’re looking to wildlife corridors and considering the best locations for each renewable source. Also, if we reach the portfolio standards we’ve set for ourselves, we don’t need to worry about interstate issues. However, congestion remains a problem in our state. We have so much hydropower that we had to tell wind producers to shut down, which means they lose a tax credit. That acts as a disincentive.
John Podesta: Does linking the states help the intermittency problem?
Christine Gregoire: It can. Wind off-season in Washington is on-season in California, for example.
Jerry Brown: A regional grid allows energy to be moved around in a very efficient way. The more we can send surplus to deficit, the better the system becomes.
Brian Sandoval: I agree. In Nevada trying to get to 25% renewable energy by 2025.
Audience question: How do we get renewables on the fast track?
Jerry Brown: We need long-term stable incentives, a sound framework, and appropriate tax policy. Also, we must increase demand, e.g. through the Navy. We also feel that as the effects of climate change becomes more apparent, demand will increase for renewables.
Christine Gregoire: I agree with Governor Brown that need long-term stable incentives. Congress needs to step up. They must continue to invest in R&D.
Brian Sandoval: Agreed. In Nevada, all the interested parties already have a relationship with the BLM [Bureau of Land Management].
Jerry Brown: California has an energy commission which serves as a “one-stop shop” for renewables. It’s good to plan things, but we really need to get things going as soon as possible. I wouldn’t wait on it. We need to do everything we can to get it done.
Brian Sandoval: We’re planning corridors and permitting simultaneously as well.
John Podesta: What’s your strategy to remain competitive in a global economy?
Christine Gregoire: I realized during Copenhagen that the US has ceded its leadership in the field of renewable energy. The importance of this industry is obvious to other nations. Now in Washington, we have some of our companies doing work with Shanghai Electric. We need that export market and the jobs that come with it.
Brian Sandoval: We believe the future of American competitiveness can go through Nevada with manufacturing and generation. We have a partnership with the ENN Group, who spoke earlier. Our goals are aligned with renewables and so we feel we will remain well-positioned to deal with foreign companies.
Jerry Brown: California is bringing in 50% of the renewable energy venture capital in the US. Energy needs will grow as will companies that satisfy them. California has a rich history of creating great companies, like Apple. We can do a lot in our state, including the smart grid. We see many jobs in this.
Audience question: Can we solve these problems without education?
Brian Sandoval: We’re excited to strengthen and align our STEM curricula.
Christine Gregoire: No, we have to invest. Ours is an innovation economy. For example, in Washington Boeing is building carbon fiber planes. Planes are being flown with biofuels. Our state is thinking of these great new products, but this can’t be done without STEM education.
Jerry Brown: Education is important for green energy, but even more important for citizenship. We especially need to ensure that talented foreign students who train in our universities are more easily permitted to stay.
John Podesta: You are all under huge budget pressures. How’s that affecting you?
Jerry Brown: We’re lowering investments in almost everything, though green energy is being subsidized by rates, private investments, and so on. We’re not keeping pace with our accumulated infrastructure bill. People need to understand that government isn’t an STD to be afraid of. Market fundamentalism is an impediment to smart balance. Look, the private sector has lots of creativity, but we need the right balance with government.
Christine Gregoire: Washington is hurting too budget-wise, but are trying to find ways to save money. One way is by retrofitting schools and using the savings to pay the companies back.
Brian Sandoval: We’re putting solar on schools and powering some by geothermal. We vow to align education with renewable energy.
John Podesta: Are big market pulls like requiring your state to run on a certain percentage of renewables by some year a good plan?
Jerry Brown: Absolutely, and it’s bringing investment into California.
Christine Gregoire: I favor a national energy standard, but I don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon so states need to step up.
Brian Sandoval: I agree.
Audience question: Will your state accept importation of out-of-state energy and supply the transmission resources to make this possible?
Brian Sandoval: We Western leaders have already talked about our mutual interests there. Nevada and California will have a relationship.
Jerry Brown: How much we import must be balanced by how much we produce locally. We intend to be an exporter, a leader, but that doesn’t mean we will ignore useful synergies.
Christine Gregoire: I mirror Governor Brown’s position.
John Podesta: Do you want to give people in DC any advice?
All: No. (laughter)