Answering the West’s $200 Billion Energy Question
The U.S. stands at an energy crossroads. With or without new direction from policymakers, huge sums will be invested in the electricity system as aging infrastructure is replaced and new infrastructure is built to meet our country’s growing energy needs. In the 11 states that comprise the Western Interconnect, that amounts to more than $200 billion over the next two decades.
We know that this money will be spent. The remaining question is: how do we spend it? We can maintain a business-as-usual approach or intentionally invest those dollars in a new clean energy economy. Decisions made today will have economic and environmental consequences for decades to come, so we’d better choose wisely. A new report we helped release with Western Grid Group — Western Grid 2050: Contrasting Futures, Contrasting Fortunes — is intended to inform that choice. In addition to our 25 esteemed industry and conservation compadres in the WCEA, the launch got some extra wattage from former Colorado Governor and our own Solar Champion award winner Bill Ritter.
Ritter called Western Grid 2050 “one of the best and most comprehensive things I’ve seen that tells a region of the U.S. this is how we can move and do it in a fashion that will make a meaningful difference in the quality of life in the West.” He’s not kidding when he calls it comprehensive. The report provides a detailed analysis of what the Business As Usual and Clean Energy Vision cases look like for the 11 western states in 2030 and 2050 — and the first comprehensive overview of the job, economic, environmental, energy security and public health implications of two very different futures. It’s a big report. (For those wanting the cliffs notes version – check out the very helpful summary fact sheet).
Needless to say, we think the Clean Energy Vision and its many benefits is the right choice for the West. The report goes further to demonstrate that the CEV cases are absolutely achievable, but they’ll require more than the isolated examples of state leadership we’re already (happily) seeing on clean energy. It requires region-wide changes to system infrastructure, policy, and operations in order to reliably and cost-effectively meet the West’s growing power needs. That means implementing distributed renewables like rooftop solar, efficiency, demand response & smart grid capabilities at scale. It means resource planning that includes large-scale wind and solar as a non-negotiable piece of our energy mix rather than outliers that require more natural gas development. It means regional cooperation and resource sharing across the now-balkanized Balancing Areas. And it means a true transition away from centralized fossil generation.
It’s not technology or cost or resource adequacy that could stand between the West and a clean energy future. It’s inertia. Without intentional policymaking and planning, the Western electricity grid of 2030 and 2050 will instead look very much like the grid of the last century. Leadership from state regulators, lawmakers and grid planners will make all the difference. The good news is that the states already have a proud tradition of driving progress on clean power in this country.
Ritter said it best: “In my time as Governor, Colorado saw tremendous benefit from our commitment to clean energy. I call on Western state policymakers to similarly prioritize clean energy and to reach across state lines to help build a stronger energy future for the West. We can’t afford to wait for Washington, nor should we. The West is the land of frontiers, of pioneers and innovation. Let’s make good on that heritage. Let’s break with business-as-usual and build a more prosperous, safe, and sustainable energy future.”
Vote Solar is a non-profit grassroots organization working to fight climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream.
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