Ryen Godwin, Environmental and Natural Resources Lawyer for Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, kicked things off and provided closing commentary on the discussion at the end of the event.

Panelists included:

  • Angela Crowly-Koch, Executive Director of Oregon Solar and Storage Industries Association (OSSIA)
  • Jason Busch, Executive Director of Pacific Ocean Energy Trust
  • Bryce Smith, CEO of LevelTen Energy

The lively discussion indicated there is much to be optimistic about with regard to renewable energy today and into the future for the Pacific Northwest. Key takeaways from the discussion:

  • Demand for renewable energy is exceeding supply in a major way and at unprecedented levels for both residential and commercial markets. More renewable energy projects need to be sited and built quickly to meet demand.
  • Transmission, permitting, and interconnection (access to grid) are some of the biggest challenges to further advancement.
  • We’re going to see massive amounts of storage deployed on the grid, which will increase our capacity to handle new renewables. Lithium ion batteries are going to play a major role in our grid infrastructure, as they’re coming down in price and offer increased storage capacity. Multi-day and multi-week batteries are on the horizon.
  • Oregon recently passed a bill to investigate the benefits and challenges of forming a regional transmission organization (RTO) for the Pacific Northwest. In our region, renewable energy is largely a vertically integrated market. An RTO would help enable power to be generated in one location and then distributed across a multi-state region so it can be sold somewhere else.
  • Building transmission lines for distribution of renewable energy is costly and depending on the project, can take a decade or more. Additional challenges include strict restrictions for building new energy renewables on farmland, and ocean sites can receive push-back from commercial fishing interests.
  • One of the most exciting advancements in efficient and lower-cost renewable energy is offshore wind. Several projects are already implemented and many more are being built along the West Coast.
  • A 100% clean electricity standard was just passed in a recent Oregon legislative session. The state’s two investor-owned utilities, PGE and PacifiCorp, must reduce their emissions 80% by 2030, 90% by 2035, and 100% by 2040. The bill includes a Green Tariff Program, which enables local communities and businesses to purchase renewable energy. The standard also bans new natural gas plans from being sited in Oregon.
  • At the federal level, Biden’s Build Back Better bill is still being negotiated, but the details of it will help further boost renewable energy. It includes a long-term extension of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), hopefully bringing it back to 30% (it’s currently at 26% and without amendment it would go down to 22% in 2023 before going away completely). There is a new provision encouraging low or moderate income homeowners to adopt solar for their homes. A storage investment tax credit is also being discussed, as well as labor provisions attached to clean energy projects at a federal level.

Renewable energy is largely cost competitive and the industry is at a good point with demand exceeding supply. From an economic standpoint, any time demand exceeds supply, we might see rising prices. But when we look at overall trends, renewable energy costs have been consistently reducing as efficiency improves, whereas conventional energy sources have associated costs that fluctuate or increase year to year.

Decarbonizing the energy sector plays a vital role in resolving our climate crisis. It’s a technology challenge but is also affected by commercial and political factors. Our current energy system was built 50 years ago and is verging on being antiquated. There is an urgent need to rebuild it with renewable energy sources, and the industry is seeing dramatic advancements quickly. Costs are coming down, storage solutions are improving, energy production rates are increasing, and demand is being driven by a hungry market and supported by government policy.

Watch a video recording of the virtual event here:

PNW Predictions: Renewable Energy Reimagined – Zoom

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