Transcript of Bill Ritter’s energy transition question to the Governors of Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming
By Joe Smyth | firstname.lastname@example.org | @joesmyth
At the 2017 21st Century Energy Transitions Symposium, former Colorado Governor and Director of the Center for the New Energy Economy 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? I summarized and wrote about the governors’ responses, and how we might ask similar questions of electric cooperatives. To help provide a more complete record, I’ve also transcribed the governors’ full responses below, lightly edited for clarity. Thanks to the 21st Century Energy Transition Symposium and Colorado State University for hosting the event and providing videos of the Governors’ keynote lunch panel and all the other sessions.
Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter:
This is kind of my final question of all three of you, and Governor Bullock if I could start with you. Amory Lovins, who’s seated over here, he’s the chief scientist and the founder of Rocky Mountain Institute, he presented last night in keynote remarks, a vision of the future that very much is going to rely upon a lot of different things to change how we produce energy, how we consume energy, and how we’re transported. And the question is, as the Governor of Montana, how do you ensure that Montanans aren’t left out? Even if it’s a little bit different than how Amory thinks, it’s closer to how you might think, it is changing. And how do you ensure that you’re developing a workforce, and that you are taking advantage of technological changes in a state like Montana to make sure you get to participate in whatever the energy future looks like?
Montana Governor Steve Bullock:
I guess I should read Amory’s books first, right? Beyond that, I think that’s a lot of the roles that we all play as policymakers, is saying, not just what today is going to look like, what’s tomorrow, recognizing that it’s going to be different. 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. You mentioned - and in my two year colleges, there are more and more programs that are focused on wind technicians and solar installation and areas like that.
You mentioned workforce and changing workforce, also have to deal with Colstrip. Here’s a community that was founded based on this 2,000 megawatt power plant. What can we do to make sure that that community stays healthy? And find ways not just to transition the community but to keep the investments where we ought to. States all ought to be working on carbon capture issues, states all ought to be working on transmission issues, states all ought to be coming together on those commonalities of trying to invest in technology. And we need to be flexible and resilient enough through our educational systems, through apprenticeship systems, through our regulatory outlook, to say, “Where are these next opportunities going to be, and how do we make sure that we’re best positioned to seize on those opportunities?”
Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter:
Thanks, so Governor Hickenlooper the same question, even a Governor presiding over one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and historically low in Colorado, you still have to kind of think about the future and how do you ensure Colorodans participate in a different energy future?
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper:
Well part of it is making sure that you keep the vision out there, that you want something cleaner, the same or less expensive, and equally reliable. Also got to recognize and try to make sure that you get the real facts out there, that right now we have in Colorado, roughly a little over 65,000 clean tech jobs, right, wind, solar, you know clean tech jobs. That’s roughly the same number we have as within the carbon extraction industries.
Those jobs aren’t going to get outsourced, they’re good jobs that, I think as Governor Bullock just pointed out, we’ve got to make sure we keep people trained for those jobs so that as this evolves, our training systems have to evolve. Apprenticeships have to become much more rapid in how they evolve with the jobs.
Thirdly, we’ve got to use technology to try and retrain people who are much older. We can’t continue to leave people behind when their careers become stranded assets, as someone might say in the business world, that all of the sudden people aren’t hiring or needing coal miners. We have the capacity to do that kind of retraining in real time. We’ve got to make sure that every rural town in Colorado - and Montana and Wyoming, this is something that I think the federal government should be a partner with us on, there should be all kinds of matching efforts - but redundant, high speed broadband should be universal, as a basic part of this.
I also think that cost does matter to people, as I keep saying, and David Eves was out here before, they are proposing a program in Colorado that I strongly support, where they’re using the drop in prices and the tax credits with wind, the drop in prices with solar and the other associated credits there, but they think they can close a couple of coal plants, and I haven’t gotten David to agree to say that the actual costs per month to customers buying their electricity will go down, but he is willing to say publicly that it’s going to be flat. Well nothing stays the same, so if you’re going to guarantee it’s flat, that means it’s going to be down. That’s just a difference in marketing in how we talk about the issue, but we can accept to disagree. But when you start going out there and saying that we’re going to find the ways to use scale and innovation so that we can get cleaner energy, that’s less expensive, people are going to follow and they’re going to come along with that.
And you’ve got to continue looking at, like when we did the methane regulations, we were able to enlist the oil and gas companies that were involved in over 90% of the operations in Colorado, and we will next year remove the equivalent of 340,000 cars in terms of the ozone forming pollutants that were being emitted, and that’s every year. In the end, the oil and gas industry, they’re selling most of that, those emissions that they’re getting hold of, they’re utilizing that energy rather than just letting it go into the atmosphere where it’s at its most harmful.
So I think ultimately it’s focusing on the innovation that allows us to see a future in energy that’s cleaner, equally reliable, and I think ultimately our goal is to have it be less expensive.
Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter:
So final question to you, Governor Mead, it’s the same question, how do you ensure that the people of Wyoming get to participate in a different energy economy? It’ll look different than now, we don’t know all the differences, but it’s going to look different one way or the other. And I think you’ve talked about this a little, but just kind of wrap it up.
Wyoming Governor Matt Mead:
Well one of the things that Wyoming has invested in, we’ve invested in $100 million, over $100 million, in engineering colleges at the University of Wyoming. We have $100 million science initiative, we have a new very expensive STEM building at the University of Wyoming. Because we don’t know where the answers are, but we know science can provide those answers, and we need to follow science. But in my mind for Wyoming as I look at it now, oil, gas, coal, uranium, are going to be part of the mix for a long period of time. And for those who don’t like those particular resources, and there’s challenges to them, if you’re going to be a leading exporter of energy, you have a corresponding responsibility to find out solutions for those. At the same time, and Governor Bullock, we do have the best wind regardless of who’s governor at any given time. [Governor Bullock: “Better transmission”]
So in my mind, because we don’t know where the solutions are, or where the future’s going to be, we have to be nimble. But I would also say this, this is a great opportunity for states to cooperate together. I don’t know where the solution’s going to come, for example, on coal, or how we do better in terms of well stimulation and fracking. But I do know this, that, because all of us have an interest in energy. The IMF predicts a global growth rate of 3.6% this year, 3.7% the next year. We’ve had two quarters in the United States where GDP is in excess of 3%. Globally it’s estimated a billion people live in energy poverty now. We’re not meeting energy demands today for the planet, and that means no refrigeration for medicine, for food. Not having opportunities around the world for people to have a quality of life. So we’re going to have to produce more energy in the future, and so it’s not up to an individual state, I think collectively, Western states can do a lot for this country, and to provide energy resources to the planet. I think we can be leaders in innovation, and leaders in energy production, and leaders in the environment. And to me, that’s a great position to be in, to have that leadership opportunity, and we ought to embrace it.
Montana Governor Steve Bullock:
Just to add one more thing. So I just got through with our state’s most expensive fire season ever. We had 1.2 million acres burned. We also know that our seasons are getting hotter, and it’s real challenges. One topic that we didn’t touch on, is the possibilities that I think Western states could explore, is markets for biomass energy. And we should include that in looking at what our energy future will be. Because that can also both provide opportunity for the forest restoration and forest health, and then find a better market for that area.
Former Colorado Governor Bill Ritter:
We could get a tax cut, you know there’s already a federal tax cut for removing slash from national forests. But because we have dead pine beetle trees, when I was Governor we tried to get Larry Summers to propose a tax credit that would include dead pine beetle trees and the removal. They didn’t do it, but we still have the opportunity to do it as part of our tax reform if the Western states wanted to get involved that would be a very good thing. Because I think that would help use that as a biomass, it has a carbon life for seven or eight years, but after that it still has just a woody biomass. So I agree.
Question from the audience:
You’ve talked, each of you, a bit about supply side resources, renewable resources, and your existing fossil resources, what do you see as your opportunities on the demand side, energy efficiency, that kind of technological innovation?
Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper
I think that - and I can do it real briefly, just because it’s always been the cheapest energy we can find, is the energy that we can save. And that’s actually Amory Lovins’ 1978, I think - what was that Foreign Affairs article you wrote? [Ritter: Energy Strategies, The Road Not Taken, 1976] ‘76, there you go, I was pretty proud to be within two years. And when Governor Bullock was saying that he needs to read the books, we already have all heard at least two-thirds of what’s in Amory’s books because it ends up in the national media and it ends up getting recycled. So I would like to publicly bow down. Thank you for all your work.
Part of our executive order that we did in July, was we came out, and I had been speaking to a group about this size, called the Colorado Municipal League, and they’re representatives from many of Colorado’s 250 some municipalities. And I said, part of our brand, Colorado, is world renowned for our mountains, and landscapes. BUt clean air and clean water are crucial to our future, and if you want to be part of this, the branding of these new emerging industries around outdoor recreation, and these other uses of landscapes, as communities, if you are willing to embrace and commit yourselves to doing your proportionate part of meeting the Paris Accords, what a statement that would make. And I asked the group, how many of you would be willing to go back and talk to your municipalities, and almost every hand in the room went up. It was just a huge wave of people, and I think that’s one way you can look at taking, finding ways to have people use less energy is to get a movement, and start with municipalities, but let them work within their communities to say, alright, how do we insulate better, how do we make sure we have weatherstripping where we need it, how do we make sure we’re not wasting the energy that we consume?
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