In Chicago, Bill Clinton calls for national grid to boost renewable energy (repost from Midwest Energy News)

In Chicago, Bill Clinton calls for national grid to boost renewable energy | Midwest Energy News.

CHICAGO — Former President Bill Clinton invoked the ancient Sumerians, campaign stops at wind-blown Texas border towns, the looming budgetary fiscal cliff and an eclectic assortment of other concepts while proselytizing for more investments in the grid and clean energy, during his speech at the Wind on the Wires gala in Chicago Wednesday night.

Veering between big picture philosophical conclusions and wonkish descents into policy details and proposals, Clinton made the case that renewable energy is symbolic of a struggle central to human nature: “a constant tug of war between the demands of the present and the possibilities of the future.” Between sticking with long-time practices that seem most safe and lucrative in the present, versus forays into new territory that offer more hope for the future.

This dichotomy is exemplified in North Dakota, Clinton noted. According to a study done by the administration of former President George W. Bush, Clinton said, North Dakota alone could theoretically provide for a quarter of the country’s energy needs with wind power if the turbines and interstate transmission lines existed.

“The money and power is there to frack out all the natural gas and oil, but not to build out the grid,” Clinton lamented.

He praised Wind on the Wires and their allies for making great progress in expanding wind power in the Midwest and bringing together environmental and business interests on common ground. But, he said, much remains to be done and a drastic overhaul of the country’s electric grid is necessary to make it happen.

Wind on the Wires is a member of RE-AMP, which also publishes Midwest Energy News, andMidwest Energy News was a media sponsor for the event.

One nation under a grid

Clinton called for a national grid, which would allow centralized decision-making and investment more conducive to renewables and distributed generation.  And he proposed funding grid improvements with a national infrastructure bank, which could attract capital in part as a place American companies could invest profits made abroad, rather than paying taxes on that revenue.

He repeated multiple times that extending the wind Production Tax Credit for 10 years or even permanently, is crucial to the continued growth of wind power. Without action, the tax credit will expire at the end of December.

And he urged renewable energy advocates to do a better job framing and pushing their message, including by invoking examples of the escalating impacts of climate change.

He said that groups fighting climate change should have focused more attention on Richard Muller, a University of California physicist and former climate change skeptic once beloved by the Tea Party, who became a climate change believer after doing his own sweeping study on earth surface temperatures.  If the situation were reversed and Muller was a renewable energy proponent who had a change of heart, Clinton said, the Koch brothers would have poured millions into making him a household name.

Kate O’Hair, director of the Midcontinental region for EDF Renewable Energy, indicated in remarks before Clinton’s speech that such effective messaging is especially crucial since “skepticism and criticism are at an all-time high.” But, she said, advocates “have the strength and the voice to look beyond these obstacles…overcoming these obstacles will make our industry stronger and more efficient.”

Clinton noted that likely federal budget cuts as a result of the “fiscal cliff” or a deal reached to avoid the cliff could be devastating for renewable energy, including the tax credit and research and development funding. He urged renewable energy advocates to fight hard to raise awareness of the job-creating and economic-stimulus potential of renewable energy. He cited the example of the Empire State Building energy efficiency retrofit, which he said created 275 full-time jobs for two years.

“You all should make a much bigger deal about the contributions you make to the economy,” he said.

All dressed up and nowhere to go

While diving deep into specific ways to accelerate renewable development and grid overhauls, Clinton also described such improvements as part of a larger socioeconomic shift bringing resources and jobs to marginalized rural, poor and Native American communities. He compared the electric grid to internet broadband, and said both should be expanded to offer equitable access to all – in both the metaphorical and the concrete sense – “we need to think about networks.” He implied broadband projects could be undertaken literally in tandem with electric grid expansions.

Native American tribes could “revolutionize” their fortunes if a national grid (and broadband) were in place, Clinton said, “because they have lots of wind and sun.” But on Native American land in the Great Plains and Southwest, power can’t get to market without new transmission.

Clinton lamented the “stranded” wind projects that are “all dressed up and ready to go to the prom” but can’t get construction financing because of lack of grid access.

He reminisced about negotiating the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 only to have the Senate vote 95-0 for the Byrd-Hagel resolution in opposition to joining the international climate treaty. Clinton said he is confident Congress will eventually pass a climate bill, and he urged attendees to “take President Obama’s stated strategy of ‘all of the above’ and fill in the blanks.” You can’t have an “all of the above strategy” without improving the grid, he said.

He offered a cautionary note regarding ancient people seemingly afraid to break with tradition and try new things — implying our society’s decision between continued reliance on fossil fuels or a bold shift to clean energy is potentially cataclysmic.

“Look what happened to civilizations that had their day in the sun and then declined,” he said. “Progress is a long road, a lot of rolling big rocks up steep hills.”


About Cyrus

Cyrus Tashakkori is Vice President at Pioneer Green Energy, a wind and solar power developer based in Austin, TX. He has an MBA and a Masters in Public Policy from the University of Texas in Austin and a Bachelor's in Science & Economics from the University of North Carolina, Asheville.
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2 Responses to In Chicago, Bill Clinton calls for national grid to boost renewable energy (repost from Midwest Energy News)

  1. Andrea Hitt says:

    Dear Cyrus…. you know as well as I that tens of thousands of abandoned mega wind turbines litter the globe already…their life span is short, their production of energy unpredictable, their repair expensive…. so why are we, after decades (THEY ARE OLD TECHNOLOGY) continuing to force them on communities, ruining view sheds off Block Island, destroying tourist economies in once beautiful, pristine rural or seaside areas? This is an industry that needs to be examined with a scientific, economic eye…. there are small, 10x more efficient models being developed on our own west coast that can replace the behemoths that would-be millionaires seek to build ….Are you unaware that many cities have no say in placement? You’d need a local permit to put a dog-house next to your neighbor’s property line, but a 500′ tall turbine, flinging ice, causing vibration, flicker and dead birds can be popped in if a state siting council says o.kay. AND who doesn’t remember the recent case in Massachusetts of the ‘green tech co’ that captured millions in state and federal tax credits for R and Development, received land and buildings, then when up and running, sold the equipment, technology, and jobs to CHINA for billions??? Gimme a break…. the only thing Green about PTC is the Bucks going to greedy developers.

    • Cyrus says:

      Dear Andrea,

      Thanks very much for your comments. I’ll try to respond to each one in order, but I couldn’t agree more that we need to look at the issues you raise with a scientific and economic perspective. (Since you value science and economics, I’m going to assume that you agree with the 98% of human scientists that say we are warming the globe by burning fossil fuels and that there are massive costs associated with this behavior).

      You obviously have some strong feelings against wind farms and developers, but you made several factually incorrect statements in your comments.

      You asserted that there are smaller turbines that are more efficient on the west coast. In fact, the dramatic increase in efficiencies that we have experienced in the last 10 years has been precisely because wind turbines have grown in scale. The turbines are taller, with larger blade-spans and nacelles that house much larger, more efficient generators, as large as 6 MW each vs. the 100 kW (1/10th of 1 MW) turbines from the 1990s that litter the Tehachape area today. The result is we can take 30 of those old smaller turbines and replace them with 1 new turbine and get much higher efficiencies in the process. I could go on but you seem simply misinformed on this point.

      As for your comments against the impacts of siting of wind farms, this is a complicated issue but one rife with misinformation. For example, the #1 cause of bird deaths are buildings, followed by house cats, followed by transmission lines, then cars, then communications towers. Wind turbines are not even close in scale to each of these sources of human-caused bird deaths. Unlike developers who erect most buildings, transmission lines, communications towers, or just people having a house cat or car, however, siting a wind farm requires a lengthy and detailed 4 season avian study (we pay biologists to count birds for a year on our site, then write a report about it) and are subject to restrictions based on potential impacts to birds/bat species. Wind energy seems is often a scapegoat for bird deaths, but the fact is that many of these things you do on a daily basis causes far more bird deaths than the wind industry. Here’s a nifty graph that shows that reality, but you can find plenty more scientific studies that come to the same conclusion.

      Now, if we’re talking science and economics, your position opposing wind on environmental grounds gets even less correct! It turns out that, if you look at the lifecycle environmental impact of every source of energy today (nuclear, coal, gas, oil, wind, hydro), wind is the least impactful. Drilling/mining is very destructive to habitat. Transporting oil and coal involves lots of negative environmental impact. And obviously burning billions of tons of fossils fuels each year has massive economic and environmental impacts that dwarf the perceived impact of wind turbines on bird species. If you are truly concerned with birds, you would be pro wind. That is precisely why the Audubon Society and Sierra Club support properly sited wind energy.
      Here’s a nifty life-cycle graph showing the impacts of each of these energy sources in each phase of it’s life, including extraction, transport, and production (it’s from a NYSERTA study that you can find by googling “NYSERTA comparison energy wildlife”:

      Next, let’s talk about subsidies. As I’ve sited on this blog, the vast majority of taxpayer subsidies, whether you’re talking for production or for R&D, go to the rich and powerful fossil fuels (90+ years) and nuclear (60+ years) industries. Even if you just compare the first 15 years of each industry’s subsidies, subsidies for nuclear and fossils were over 5x that for renewables. Here’s a post on that with references:

      and this post discussed how R&D dollars still mostly go to fossils and nuclear (despite these industries being mature)

      This hugely disproportionate support for fossils and nuclear for many decades is a big reason why the wind industry needed subsidies in the first place. In addition to this being a new technology that needed a push to become commercially viable (as was the case with oil 90 years ago and nuclear 60 years ago), wind needed subsidies to be able to compete with massively subsidized oil, coal, and nuclear! I assume you are even more opposed to the much larger existing taxpayer subsidies for those much more mature and environmentally destructive sources of energy.

      Regarding certain municipalities that have varying permitting requirements for wind, our experience has been that it’s often much harder to permit a wind farm than things like pipelines, oil rigs, transmission lines, coal plants, or even nuclear plants. And while it may be easier to permit a dirty coal plant, the impact on air quality is spread over a large area and few of those impacted have any say in whether their air should/shouldn’t have poisons like mercury and particulate matter in it. Also, there’s a good bit of research that shows that wind farms actually increase tourism as people come to see the turbines. They also can increase property values as localities generate tax revenues from the wind turbines and either reinvest that money or reduce property tax rates, which in turn attracts new residents and increases property values.

      You said a lot of other things but the bottom line is that the proper siting of wind farms employ proper set backs from things like houses and designs to avoid sound impacts and environmental impacts on nearby residents. There are examples of poorly sited windfarms (closer to homes then they should be, etc.), but they are definitely the exception, not the rule.

      Regarding “greedy” developers: thanks to several years of consolidation, most of the development in the US is now done by giant companies with relatively lower hurdles for profit margin. Many of these same companies are in the coal/oil/gas business (ex. Florida Power & Light, Chevron, BP, E.On, etc.), so again you’re railing against the electricity industry. Assuming you use electricity and plan on continuing to use it, this is a bit self defeating. Likewise, equipment used in each of the energy industries we use to power our society, from nuclear to coal to gas, are manufactured on a global market. Currently Chinese wind turbines are not of high quality so we don’t see many of them operating in the U.S., but we do see a lot of American wind turbines like GE turbines being installed globally. Since the Europeans had the foresight to invest in renewables before we did, they have the best turbine technology in the world and so many of the wind turbines in the US are from European companies. However, it’s much easier to manufacture such large parts domestically, so there are many factories across the country that build this stuff right here in the US (even if it’s for Siemens or Vestas). Here’s a map of those facilities:

      I could go on and on, but I am fearful of wasting time here responding to each of your comments. My experience with people who oppose wind energy is that there is no amount of fact, science, or argument that can change their minds. I understand that wind turbines are fairly new in history, the earlier years involved bad siting choices, and some people just are hard-wired to dislike them. But as a society that continues to consume electricity, there are no alternatives as cheap, clean, and reliable as wind energy. Whether you change your views on wind, I’m heartened to know that the next generation (your kids and mine) will grow up less upset about seeing clean energy being produced in their viewsheds or on their drives.

      Thanks again for your comments.


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