National Clean Energy Week highlights how policy makers with different perspectives can come together to support clean energy development. But what about the obstacles that haven’t been addressed?
The NCEW 2018 Symposium’s second panel of the day, “Overcoming Regulatory Barriers to Advance Clean Energy” provided answers to that question. Although the panelists recalled different experiences with specific projects and jurisdictions, several themes kept emerging in their stories, including streamlining and updating policies and establishing consistent, predictable policy frameworks.
Malcom Woolf of Advanced Energy Economy (AEE) observed that the fundamental problem is that the existing regulatory barriers are typically based on challenges of a specific time, and the clean energy economy is growing so fast it has been difficult for government to keep up.
This problem manifests itself in different ways. Utah Office for Energy Development Executive Director Dr. Laura Nelson and Steve Caminati of APEX Clean Energy both discussed locational issues. Dr. Nelson emphasized that her state is trying to make sure land use policies and other access issues do not limit the potential of clean energy development, but she said barriers still need to be overcome. Mr. Caminati described how it is now necessary to be proactive locally and as forward-thinking as possible in order to educate community members and foster the political will to effect change.
In fact, the panelists discussed Community Choice Aggregation initiatives during the Q & A portion. Although it is too early to tell how effective this approach is, it is an intriguing possible alternative to the investor-owned utility energy supply system, with some communities opting instead to partner with their neighbors to negotiate longer-term contracts to buy power together, making clean energy a hyperlocal issue.
Corporations are following suit. Microsoft Director of Sustainability Policy Michelle Patron surprised the audience with the fact that software icon uses about as much energy as the entire state of Alaska, and its headquarters alone is essentially equivalent to a small city. So, they are looking for more options to purchase clean power, including buying their power directly and even using their batteries and back-up power to generate their own when the grid is in need. But state and local regulations can still limit their choices and innovation.
Other strategies mentioned by individual panelists could pay off in the correct regulatory environment, but the efficacy of such approaches remains uncertain. Mr. Woolf is interested in performance-based incentives aligning with public policy goals and believes that the free markets will work provided the playing field is level. Dr. Nelson said Utah has taken steps to further encourage energy efficiency via amortization like other assets and competitive solicitation using new tariff design.
What is clear is the technology is surpassing policy—therefore, more flexibility is needed until more specific provisions can be enacted.