By Joe Smyth | email@example.com | @joesmyth
At the recent 21st Century Energy Transitions Symposium, former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter asked the governors of Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming: How do you ensure that the residents of your state aren’t left out of the energy transition underway that Amory Lovins presented in his keynote remarks?
It was the final question that Ritter asked during the Governors’ Panel, and the only one he posed to all three members of the panel: Montana Governor Steve Bullock, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, and Wyoming Governor Matt Mead. Amory Lovins, chief scientist and co-founder of Rocky Mountain Institute, had earlier delivered the Symposium’s keynote address, showing that rapidly changing technologies, business models, and price trends are driving the energy transition from “the obsolete age of carbon” to “the modern age of silicon.”
It’s worth watching Amory Lovins' full presentation
How are governors ensuring that their states aren't left behind in the energy transition? I thought it was an important question, especially because Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming are all coal producing states, so each Governor must contend with what the shift away from coal means for communities that have historically depended on coal mining for jobs and tax revenue. At the same time, each state includes vast regions with some of the best renewable energy resources in the nation. So decisions made by each of the Governors, along with other policymakers in the region, will go a long way in determining how communities in their states might benefit - or be left behind - in the growth of the clean technology sector.
Governor Bullock highlighted the recent growth of solar energy in Montana, noting that, “I had said last year when I put together this energy blueprint, I want to double my solar production by 2025. We’ve now just doubled it already.” Bullock also said that in Montana’s two year colleges, “there are more and more programs that are focused on wind technicians and solar installation.” Solar installers and wind technicians are the two fastest growing occupations in the United States and are projected to grow more than twice as fast as any other occupation, according to last month’s figures from the US Labor Department.
Governor Mead discussed science and research investments at the University of Wyoming, and joked about competing with Montana for wind projects, saying “Governor Bullock, we do have the best wind.”
Governor Hickenlooper emphasized the opportunities to produce clean energy at “the same or less expensive” prices, and discussed how there are now 65,000 wind, solar, and other clean tech jobs in Colorado, “roughly the same number we have as within the carbon extraction industries.” Hickenlooper also emphasized that “high speed broadband should be universal” in every rural town, including for training programs in communities when “all of the sudden people aren’t hiring or needing coal miners.”
Here’s Governor Hickenlooper’s full response, and I’ve also transcribed each Governor’s full remarks.
We should ask these questions of our electric cooperatives as well. Like the Governors, electric cooperative board members are democratically elected, so that co-op directors are accountable to their members - each electricity consumer in their service territory. And just as energy producing states will be most impacted by the energy transition now underway, there’s a lot at stake for electric cooperatives and the communities they serve. Electric cooperatives are often very reliant on coal, but also well positioned to benefit from excellent renewable energy resources in their vast, largely rural service territories.
Like the Governors, electric cooperative members, board directors, and staff should be looking at the renewable energy resources that are available in their regions, along with falling prices and advancements in energy storage, demand response programs, and other opportunities. For some in the electric cooperative industry, this is a new conversation. Other electric cooperatives are already saving money by investing in wind, solar, hydro, efficiency, and energy storage projects.
But whatever their levels of experience with these technologies, rapidly dropping prices mean that, as Colorado Governor Hickenlooper recently noted, "Coal is no longer the low-cost fuel." That means renewable energy will be an increasingly important way for electric cooperatives to meet their commitment “to providing safe, reliable and affordable energy to our consumer-members on a not-for-profit basis.”
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