Cross-posted from Scaling Green
On April 11, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) held a fascinating media roundtable at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. ACORE President Michael Brower set the tone for the panels with his introductory remarks, in which he stressed that “renewable energy resources have historically held the goodwill of the majority of the American public,” but that media coverage doesn’t necessarily reflect that – or “align with the reality of the marketplace.” As Brower explained, the media has over-reported the relatively infrequent cleantech failures, while under-reporting its overwhelming successes. And, Brower added, many of those successes are happening in the states, where from “Maine to Georgia, to Kansas to Oregon and all those states in between,” we see “a new emergence of bipartisan-ism on clean and renewable energy.”
The first panel focused on national storylines, and we’ll talk about that in a future post at Scaling Green. For now, though, we want to focus on the second panel, moderated by Stephen Lacey of Greentech Media, which took a “deep dive” into what’s happening on the “frontlines” of the clean energy debate, in the states. Lacey argued that the best national energy stories turn out to be state and local stories as well, from distributed generation to state renewable energy mixes to EPA regulations to fracking. As Lacey put it, “This industry is very much driven by local and state policies, and it’s always been that way….When you look at the national conversation, which is basically frozen now, everyone in the cleantech community is looking to the states, because that’s where the stories are playing out.” A few examples of what’s happening in the states regarding clean energy were provided by the panelists.
- Ryan Randazzo of the Arizona Republic talked about the distributed solar/net metering debate in Arizona, where 90% of people support solar power, but where the state’s major electric utility, the Arizona Public Service Company, fought to charge rooftop solar customers a monthly fee and to pay them below market value for the power they feed back into the grid. In other news, Randazzo also noted that Arizona is in the running for a huge, multi-billion-dollar Tesla battery factory.
- Ken Paulman of Midwest Energy News talked about the big headline from Minnesota, where that state recently became the first in the U.S. to pass a “value of solar” tariff. The “value of solar” approach takes into account such factors as the avoided costs of new transmission and generation and even the price of carbon emissions to determine a rate for solar power that the utility must pay to a customer who puts solar panels on their roof. In other news, Paulman noted that a judge recently ruled that solar is a better deal for Minnesota ratepayers than natural gas. Finally, Paulman stressed that rural communities across the Midwest are embracing solar power, with a large community solar array being built in conservative, rural, western Kansas. As Paulman put it, farmers are leading the way in adopting solar power, and it’s definitely not just “hippies from Madison” who want solar power, it’s something that people of all political bents want.
- Varner Seaman of the Renewable Northwest Project discussed a recent American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) measure that could have gutted the Oregon Renewable Portfolio Standard, but fortunately didn’t succeed. In other good news, Seaman reported that Oregon just passed legislation to encourage communities to pool resources and develop solar together. In sum, Seaman argued that clean energy is just “good dollars and sense” for rural communities and for investors in states like Oregon.
- Finally, Matt Kasper of the Center for American Progress talked about pro-fossil-fuel ALEC’s involvement in numerous states across the country in trying to repeal or weaken reneable energy standards. So far, fortunately, ALEC has largely failed, but the battle continues. In Kasper’s view, a major, underreported story is how broad coalitions have come together across the country in favor of clean energy and in opposition to attacks on the industry.
The bottom line is that cleantech is thriving at the state level, demonstrating a great deal of resiliency, bipartisan support, economic and environmental benefits to urban, suburban and rural communities alike. This is a major success story, and certainly deserves mainstream media coverage commensurate to its significance.