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Ned Farquhar’s Blog

WBRT on WCI - The same mistakes, again

Ned Farquhar

Posted February 17, 2009

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WBRT report: Let's go back and do what we did before.


I just listened to the WBRT (Western Business Roundtable) webinar about its new report on the Western Climate Initiative (WCI).  Some quick reactions, while I spend a little more time reading the report itself. 


Remember the price of gasoline last year, and the four or five years before that?  The Western Business Roundtable apparently doesn't.  Despite categorical, provable evidence from western states that energy efficiency saves money and that western renewables are cost-competitive, the WBRT predicts that a future based on renewable energy and energy efficiency will be too expensive.  But the expensive option is the fossil option.  Reducing our reliance on high-emitting fossil fuels will buffer consumers (low-income people especially) against punishing price swings that have already caused enormous economic pain, and against the high costs of global warming - drought, coastal erosion, catastrophic wildfire, agricultural and habitat impacts - that pose a significant threat to the western economy.  


The WBRT says the Western Climate Initiative will poison the investment climate for fossil-based carbon-capture technologies.  This isn't true.  Every low-carbon option, from efficiency to renewables to carbon-capture, will be able to compete in a market-based cap and trade system.  The market will be blind to the methods used to reduce emissions.  By gradually ratcheting down on global warming emissions, the cap and trade system will discourage traditional high-emitting technologies and encourage new low-emitting options.  Industry can participate in the most economically efficient manner.  Competition among energy sources might not favor WBRT members, but it will definitely help consumers and businesses around the region.


The WBRT predicts electric reliability problems for the West if it grows its renewable energy base.  Almost at the same moment that President Obama speaks about the promise of "smart grid" and renewable technologies (in Denver today), the WBRT backs away.  The WBRT report raises reliability questions unrelated to renewable energy growth, instead pointing out that national sources say the western grid needs improvement.  True, and these improvements can be made in the next decade to accommodate renewable energy growth as high-emitting resources are scaled back.  In combination with efficiency, the West's geothermal/solar/wind mix can provide reliable, low-cost energy for the region's future - even with sharp growth in electric vehicle use in coming decades.


The West can lead on climate, helping Congress toward the goal of a national cap and trade program.  The WBRT - whose members agree that national legislation would be better than a regional program - doesn't agree on what a national program should contain.  For decades traditional energy providers denied the possibility of climate change.  Today they won't agree on the details.  The WCI helps Congress toward a needed national program by showing that the regions can act.  Leadership matters, not only in reducing emissions and capturing the economic and jobs potential of renewable energy, but also in modeling the pathway to progress.  Thanks, WCI!

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