What Do the Results of the 2016 Election Mean For Clean Energy in DC?

Originally posted on 38 North Solutions blog.

The results of this week’s election are certainly a surprise and will impact the focus and direction of policymakers moving forward. As we look ahead, historically, Congress is most active when one party controls the House of Representatives, Senate and White House. We expect 2017 to follow this trend, particularly because Republicans campaigned, in part, on a message of fixing the gridlock that exists in Washington. As a result, the next two years are going to be busy and significant.

The 38 North Solutions team has a proven track record of working with legislators on both sides of the aisle and feels well positioned to help companies and organizations navigate this new period. The weeks and months ahead will clarify where the Trump Administration and Republican Congress will focus their attention, but here are our initial thoughts about what lies ahead:

Lame Duck, 114th Congress
Before the election, the prevailing assumption was that the end of this year (Lame Duck Session) of Congress would be especially busy as members from both parties try to clear the decks of any remaining pieces of legislation before the bipartisan-viewed wildcard of a Trump Administration assumes power. However, the overwhelming nature of Trump’s win, coupled with the fact that Senate and House Republicans performed better than expected, has diminished the appetite amongst Republican members to negotiate with Democrats and President Obama at the end of the year in any significant way. As a result, the opportunity for successful enactment of clean energy provisions like reinsertion of the technologies that were removed from the Investment Tax Credit last year has closed significantly. Funding for the federal government expires on December 9th, so Congress will have to address that before adjourning, but the likelihood that the ITC or any other policy provision gets attached is limited.

Federal Legislation, 115th Congress
With a GOP-controlled House, Senate, and White House, we expect the new President to be able to pass energy legislation that could include PURPA and Federal Power Act reform. We will need to be vigilant to ensure that those provisions are not detrimental to clean energy technologies and applications, while mining opportunities to insert clean energy provisions into non-controversial legislation. There is no realistic scenario for passing a carbon tax, renewable portfolio standard, clean energy standard, or additional clean energy tax credits. In fact, we will need to work hard to shore up support for existing clean energy provisions to ensure that they are not repealed. On the positive side, innovation is key to growing the economy and jobs and we can continue to hammer those messages to energy policy and tax committee leadership. There may also be a path for additional transmission provisions that can increase build-out of infrastructure across the U.S., although we would not expect a large spending provision in any case.

Companies interested in advancing clean energy policy must not view yesterday’s election as an imperative to disengage in advocating before Congress. Rather, moving forward, we know that the Trump Administration has every intention of passing an aggressive legislative agenda next year. It is therefore critical that we continue to make the strongest case possible for policies that will continue to support an innovative energy economy.

Environmental Protection Agency
The Obama Administration’s landmark achievement regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan (CPP), is now in serious jeopardy. Because the CPP is a federal regulation, the Trump Administration can undertake steps to undo the policy without seeking congressional approval and we expect taking such action to be a priority. The good news is that the CPP has helped states to think strategically about how to move to a cleaner energy generation mix and investment in those technologies has shifted to support that movement. We believe that utility and corporate investment in clean energy will continue to grow. In addition, regulatory processes on clean energy in states will continue to move forward.

Department of Energy
Funding for specific programs within the agency may shift to more fossil and nuclear research and development funding and less renewables and energy efficiency funding. Less clear is how the Office of Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability would be impacted, although Trump’s energy agenda includes grid modernization. It is hard to envision the Quadrennial Energy Review process continuing since this was a project led by Secretary Moniz.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
FERC is generally not considered political and the two vacancies are slotted for Republicans. We know at least one of those potential appointees and think that other credible nominees would likely come from regulatory and public policy arena. We will need to continue cultivating those relationships to ensure that wholesale markets for innovation will continue to be considered.

While yesterday’s result may not have been what we expected, it is the reality we face moving forward. We would be happy to set-up a time to meet to discuss specifically what the Trump Administration’s ascension may mean for your business and how we can work together to ensure that your interests are being adequately addressed in Washington.

Winding Down to Rev Back Up

As I sit at my kitchen counter listening to the needles drop off our fading Christmas tree like sleet landing on window panes, I wonder when Congress stopped absorbing water and began accepting the inability to thrive. It all still looks presentable, but with little productive outcome. So what’s a clean energy advocate to do? Perhaps stop lobbying Congress altogether and focus instead on business-to-agency and business-to-business interactions?

Perhaps there are enough laws and we need to focus instead on implementing what we already have on the books. In a way, that exercise makes us dig deep into our statutes to find out what we can get done without change. Take the EPA, for example. The agency will essentially be writing our climate legislation and calling upon clean energy innovation for solutions to our most pressing environmental issue. And the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, my personal favorite. The FERC, along with other regulatory agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission and Federal Communications Commission, can open up markets by interpreting statute and promulgating rules that allow new technology participation. The Small Business Administration can assist burgeoning industries in navigating and interpreting existing policy. Even the Internal Revenue Service can make rulings based on statute that open the doors of tax policy for clean technologies.

Because DC is the home to hundreds of trade associations, ensuring that entrepreneurs are connected to the most appropriate and helpful trade groups can be enormously beneficial. Introducing foundling endeavors to larger companies and executives who can serve as mentors and guides along the way to development and, eventually, IPO. Forming coalitions of start-ups that can create their own nucleus of power with the philosophy that rising tides help all boats.

Thing is, we still need Congress to step in from time to time. We need laws clarified and updated. We need provisions extended and renewed to prevent new industries from collapsing. We need foundational policy for new enterprises that never existed previously and have no guidelines for operation. We need affirmation that our publicly elected officials who represent constituents desperate for jobs and economic growth, are engaged and learning and paying attention to what is going on in front of their eyes and in their hometowns. We do need Congress to act on clean energy. Not for everything that happens, but in really important ways that can help our national competitiveness through local growth.

So I will continue to work with Congress–explaining complex technologies in terms that a layperson can understand; introducing them to their own voters who are also clean energy entrepreneurs; demonstrating that federal programs can have positive and direct consequences on our economy and environment; and convincing them that taking a stand on clean energy is more of a patriotic value than a political statement.

In 2014, then, you may see me walking the halls of the GSA or the Pentagon, Rayburn or Dirksen. Happy New Year!

Energy Storage: the industry’s roller coaster week of tragedy and victory

This week the energy storage industry received two polar opposite pieces of news. The first was the tragic loss of Brad Roberts--decades long volunteer Executive Director of the Electricity Storage Association who managed to hold an incredibly demanding position at S&C Electric, represent the national trade association, and embody one of the industry’s most ardent missionary and champion. Brad’s lovely wife Betty was always at Brad’s side at the energy storage conferences that I can only imagine would be less than exciting for a non-aficionado. I admired Brad for his tenacity, learned from his experience, and was fond of him as a person. I will miss him terribly.

While many of us were professionally and personally reeling from this news, the California Public Utility Commission unanimously approved a target of 1.3 gigawatts for advanced energy storage. Wow. Unanimous approval. 1.3 gigawatts—without pumped hydro. I wish Brad could have seen this. He, in fact, laid so much of the groundwork for this to occur.

The energy storage industry is just getting started, too. There are currently over 300 megawatts of advanced energy storage on line with many hundreds more in the queue. Large developers like AES Energy Storage, Duke and NextEra are taking bullish positions on storage and finding ways to prove out their value to grid operations. At the moment, only frequency regulation is compensated in the organized markets, but I envision frequency response, other ancillary services and capacity to gain steam for valuation by grid operators. With states like California taking the lead closely followed by Texas, New York, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and others, energy storage should start getting included on the “menu” of resource options that can help meet our need for a more resilient, efficient and cleaner grid.

So in raising a glass in celebration for the California decision, cheers to you, Brad.

Sunshine on my shoulder makes me happy: Energy Storage Getting Some Light

Check out this blog at IDC Energy Insights as well!

A Sunshine Memo was issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Thursday, October 13, moments after I met with Commissioner Norris and Chairman Wellinghoff with the Electricity Storage Association Advocacy Council. This memo listed a multitude of possible final rulemakings, one of which will set a new course for the energy storage industry. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Frequency Regulation Compensation may sound esoteric and niche-y but this rule will provide the opening the energy storage industry needs to begin its “game changing” role on the grid that has been touted for years. It looks as if, after subsequent meetings with Commissioners Moeller and LaFleur (Commissioner Spitzer will be leaving the agency shortly), there will be unanimous support from all Commissioners on the final rule.

Read more of this post

Five Lies Your Mother Never Told You About Smart Grid

Check out AOL Energy for part of this blog!

Lie #1: Smart grid is a project for the utilities and its success rests in their hands. Utilities really have just three public goals: operate a safe, reliable, cost-effective electric grid. Our grid does need modernizing; it is congested and overloaded in some places and we need more real time information about what electrons are going where so we can balance variable renewable sources like wind and solar with electric vehicles and other consumer loads. On the metering side, having remote access to real time information will allow faster response to outages and a more accurate ability to plan for energy sources. The Recovery Act did a lot to subsidize that initial cost – and we still have a long way to go. Read more of this post

FERC Order 745 and clean tech: really, this is not boring!

When the words “FERC Order” are uttered, most people’s eyes either glaze over or worried frowns appear as they wonder if they need to understand the conversation. Let’s try to figure out what this order means for the clean tech world in words we can all understand. Read more of this post