Facilitating energy solutions on our campus, in our community, and abroad.Our Story
I had an amazing conversation with a stranger on the plane ride back to Minnesota over break. Through the talk with the bearded, soft-spoken Minnesotan, I learned that he was a rural farmer growing mostly vegetables with some livestock south of the Twin Cities. Though he had begun on just six acres 25 years ago with his wife and brother, he had grown into over 100 acres—a “large” farm by government standards—with a full workforce.
On the connecting flight from Milwaukee he told me had been in Washington, DC meeting with the Minnesota delegation across the party spectrum, from Bachmann to Franken. He had been stressing the effects of climate change and passing legislation to curb it.
Though I didn’t get his name, I was captivated by his story. Rural Minnesota has seen three 100-year floods brought on by severe storms in the past decade, according to state agronomists. That means the odds of them happening are each less than 1% a year, and the three have devastated the region. He told me that now that his farms are larger he was able to hold on, but he knew farmers who were literally wiped off the map. He had gone to Washington to tell his story and ask for help.
I looked up more on climate change and agriculture when I got home. Elevated CO2 levels have unpredictable effects on farming, from erratic rainfall—a euphemism for the devastation seen in rural Minnesota and elsewhere by powerful storms—to steadily warmer temperatures have led to lower crop totals in recent years, raising grain and meat prices and adding to an already powerful global food crisis. Increased atmospheric carbon can even alter the chemical composition of some crops, reducing protein. Heat increases since 1975 are causing livestock farmers nearly $1.7 billion a year in extra expenses to properly cool, feed, and nurture their animals as well.
It was a sobering conversation; global warming and changing climate are often painted as broad, existential problems without an immediate consequence, and as such they are often difficult to grasp. Talking to a farmer who had seen three floods you might not see in a lifetime occur in the last decade brought home the challenge we face in limiting our carbon footprints, to fellow Minnesotans and farmers across the US and the world.
The farmer did have good news, though: he wants to do his part to reduce CO2 emissions. A contractor will be giving him a quote on installing solar panels on his farm buildings in the coming weeks.
On March 2nd, the Committee on Public Services and Committee Affairs of the District of Columbia hosted a public session for discussion on Bill 19-10, the Distributive Generation Amendment Act. Currently, the solar industry in DC has really slowed significantly because funding for the DC Rebate Program for renewable energy has dried up, and the price of Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) has dropped substantially. Solar Renewable Energy Credits, or SRECs, correspond to the clean energy benifits associated with proudicing solar electricity and correspond to 1 MWh of solar electricity produced. Owners of solar systems can sell these SRECs to electricity suppliers who must obtain them in order to satisfy DC’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). This legislation aims to stop the SREC market in DC from crashing by expanding DC’s solar carve-out in the RPS and also precluding out of state systems from selling their SRECs in DC.
Specifically, this bill: 1) increases the solar requirement in DC so 2.5% of electric sales come from solar by 2020 and 2) it requires that solar systems eligible for SRECs (and that count towards DC’s solar energy goals) are located within the District so residents of the District receive the benefits of solar energy. If this bill passes it will be great for the solar industry, those that are looking to put solar on their houses, and people who would like to work for the solar industry.
It’s rare to hear a former Shell Oil president argue for the abolishment of the internal combustion engine. But John Hofmeister, author of the book, “Why We Hate the Oil Companies” and recent guest lecturer at Georgetown University, is not your typical oil executive. After leaving Shell in 2008, he founded Citizens for Affordable Energy and made it his mission to change the way we think about energy, starting with combating energy misinformation. Like Georgetown Energy, Hofmeister puts a large emphasis on energy affordability and seeks to bridge the destructive political partisanship surrounding the United States’ energy policy. Despite the oft-repeated mantra of energy independence, the United States has never had an energy plan, not even close. Hofmeister hopes to see this remedied by reforming how we plan our energy future.
When Hofmeister references a recent crop of reports from ExxonMobil, BP and Shell predicting an oil crisis to hit sometime around, oh, 2016, you expect him to add to the growing chorus of gloom-and-doom predictions of global catastrophe. In fact, Hofmeister agrees with the relatively optimistic forecasts of the oil companies, expecting that by 2030 we’ll be entering a brighter era driven by innovation forced upon us by the coming energy crisis. But if true energy independence is inevitable, we shouldn’t need a national crisis to start changing for the better. And what better place to start driving this change than Washington.
The crux of Hofmeister’s position on energy is directly influenced by years of navigating partisan-driven energy policies that are subject to change as frequently as the House majority. Energy policy takes years to plan and execute, but the current system leaves it vulnerable to what Hofmeister calls “the perversity of partisanship”. His position? Remove partisanship from energy policy altogether. As long as campaign finance rules tie the candidates’ platforms to the moneyed interests supplying the cash, we won’t have an energy plan – we’ll have a plan for every elected official in office. As Hofmeister remarked, “The energy agenda of every president is based upon where the money comes from.”
In a fascinating analogy, he reminds us that the United States once suffered from extreme economic fluctuations due to an inability to agree on basic fiscal management. It wasn’t until the Treasury defaulted twice in the early 1900s that the Federal Reserve Act was passed, forever transforming fiscal policy in the United States. By preventing electoral politics and partisan bickering from blocking long-term financial decisions (at least to the greatest extent possible) the Federal Reserve can effectively do what it’s supposed to – plan fiscal policy.
Hofmeister argues we need the same consolidation and separation of authority in order to direct energy policy. He suggests an independent regulatory commission featuring long-term appointees that would span presidents and majority shifts. While a perfect solution in theory, creating such a body is no small feat. Although the goal would be to create an independent body, it must be authorized in the same partisan environment that makes balanced energy policy impossible. It’s hard to imagine anything short of a crisis scenario that would drive Congress and the President to make such a drastic, bipartisan change. Nevertheless, to anyone who is concerned about our energy future, it’s clear a dramatic change is needed.
In our work, we can see how eager citizens are to take control of their energy future. We see it in excitement of residents to install a solar system that will provide them with clean energy for decades to come, giving them energy and financial independence and the peace of mind that comes from knowing their energy comes from a renewable source. As Hofmeister remarked, energy, like food and water, is more than an economic factor of production, and it requires better policy than that which can be hastily crafted in between reelection campaigns.