One of the interesting outcomes from this year’s recent mid-term election is what it might mean for sustainable energy in America. Despite the current administration’s misguided views on energy and climate change, American citizens voted across the country to remove lawmakers who are out of touch with the reality of one of the greatest threats we face: global climate change.
While climate change might not have been the central issue on the ballot during this mid-term election, the humiliating nation-wide drubbing Republicans suffered can be at least somewhat attributed to the party’s propensity for climate denial and hostility toward efforts to put a cost on carbon use. But do not assume it is only Democrats who believe in climate change and that we must do something about it. GOP incumbents past and present have had the courage of their convictions to buck party orthodoxy only to find themselves on just the wrong side of victory as a result. Alas.
A simple Before-And-After look at governorships in some key areas across the country shows that voters are lining up with candidates who take this issue seriously, believe in science, and support the expansion of energy generation technology better suited for the future than the past. It shows the electorate supports states assuming more leadership in setting renewable energy standards and policies that will help usher in 21st-century technology and solutions.
The election also ushered in an increased number of scientists that will set up shop on Capitol Hill. And not a moment too soon. During a House Natural Resource Committee meeting earlier this year, some committee members were completely dumbfounded at the data showing distributed renewable energy being a more economical solution for Puerto Rico than traditional fossil-based centralized generation. For them, anything that refuted their inherent bias against renewable energy had to be an ideological crusade and could not possibly be born out by simple math.
Further, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is currently chaired by someone who does not fully understand what he’s talking about and who fails to credibly support his non-scientific arguments. Fortunately he is not returning and may possibly be replaced by someone with an actual STEM background.
This is all a welcome change. US energy markets are in flux as traditional coal fired baseload generation continues to come offline due to a glut of inexpensive natural gas. Couple that with increasingly cost-competitive renewable energy and battery storage (a topic I’ll look at in the not-too-distant-future), and it’s easy to see why coal plants are closing in favor of other generation sources: it’s good for consumers. This is a trend the current administration is failing to stop despite all of its promises and backwards-looking rhetoric. If America is going to effectively deal with its current energy transformation, it will require leaders who are qualified to make policy based on a sound understanding of the problem.
That will not be an easy task. As the country’s energy transition marches forward, market risk is increasing. Renewable energy assets struggle to meet instantaneous need currently served by natural gas, but those firm dispatch assets sometimes struggle to remain economically viable in markets where an influx of cheap renewable energy has significantly depressed prices. Therefore finding solutions will require an ability to work with utilities and agencies like the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which is not always easy to do. However, finding solutions that introduce more sustainable, economical, and advanced energy technology in to America’s energy mix is more likely to happen under the leadership of people whose response to a fact-based scientific argument is to just make things up.
Regardless, renewable energy and climate policy in America got a shot in the arm during the mid-term election. Some aspects of the country’s energy and climate debate will be serious, based in scientific fact, and championed by people who understand this is bigger than political ideology. If you live in a state where climate leadership took a turn for the better, or if your elected representative is heading to Washington to champion fact-based energy and climate policy – or both – call their office and find out what you can do to support them.