Watch out politicians, they’re coming for you

Jul 20, 2018

You’ve seen them on street corners waving signs. They’ve come to your neighborhood with their friends. They ask for your vote.

The politicians are back.

It is up to each one of us ask them to describe their goals for a vibrant clean energy future.

It doesn’t take much research to find that true clean energy is taking off globally. In 2016, two-thirds of new power was created by renewable energy sources according to the International Energy Agency. The agency also reported a growth of 50 percent for solar power installations around the world in 2016. As a result, solar power led all sources of fuel for creating new capacity on the planet.

As the cost per kilowatt-hour has decreased for wind and solar power you might think that would mean the Puget Sound region would benefit from a product with a lower cost sooner rather than later.

Not necessarily. The opportunity for our community to benefit from cheaper and cleaner energy has everything to do with the candidates who are canvassing your neighborhood and dialing your phone number.

Other governments have targeted clean energy technologies with aggressive investments in research, subsidies and tax credits. That is the reality of the global competition our clean energy sector faces.

While the 2017 state legislature renewed incentives and tax credits for solar energy in Washington state, it still takes a large personal investment to install your system. Further, you cannot sell the power you generate on the open market. Your local electric utility dictates how much you can be credited for the excess energy you transfer to the grid.

While there has been visible growth in the number of solar panel installations in the Puget Sound region, it has represented only about 1 percent of the power used here. What is needed to make solar work in our region is for owners to benefit from a discount in their energy costs while they are paying off the investment of their system. Increased incentives from the state would increase capacity quickly. As an added bonus, job creation for installers, suppliers, and producers of solar power products would increase just as rapidly.

If a state sponsored plan included a repayment requirement of 105, 110, or even 120 percent, it could help sustain the credit for a longer period of time. This is why we are seeing more solar panels appearing in new construction. A $15,000 to $20,000 additional cost to construction repaid over 30 years with a low-interest loan spreads out the cost, so that the owner realizes a significant monthly energy cost savings while adding value for later resale with the investment.

Allowing for clean energy cooperatives has increased solar power installations in other countries and states. State law would have to be changed to allow these entities to sell and distribute power. For those living in apartments or in areas shielded from enough direct sunlight, they would be allowed to invest in solar arrays elsewhere in their neighborhood or even state-wide. With enough investors in a cooperative, solar power projects could reduce materials costs and stimulate the clean energy sector. According to a study by the Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives, U.S. cooperatives own $3 trillion in assets, generate $500 billion in revenues, and $25 billion in wages.

Dynamic pricing on electricity is another way elected officials, especially PUD commissioners, could improve our energy system. The cost of your electric bill is as much a factor of your utility’s peak load requirement as it is your personal consumption of electricity. Power utilities are constantly, buying power from different sources connected to the grid. That’s why power from Washington state dams is sometimes used in California and why coal from Montana is used in our region.

With dynamic pricing, you could have the option to purchase all of your power during non-peak hours by storing the energy you needed on your home battery power system. TXU Energy in Texas offers a “Free Nights & Solar Days” program for residential customers as the result of excess wind energy created. Demand for electricity typically drops significantly between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Dynamic pricing could lower everyone’s electric bill. If enough people were allowed and able to “down-load” electricity in the evening, a utilities' peak usage would go down. Since rates are based on being able to fulfill peak load demands, prices would go down for everyone if loads were more evenly distributed.

While opponents like to claim that solar and wind power are unreliable, they are certainly more stable, safe, and healthy than other forms of energy. Prices for oil and gas go up and down wildly depending on geopolitical events, natural disasters, and the whims of worried stock traders. Extraction, refining, and transportation costs also make oil, gas, and coal problematic. The external cost of pollution and climate change pose a threat to our own existence.

Every hour of every day, somewhere the sun is shining bright and some where the wind is blowing briskly. The problem has been how do we get the energy from faraway places to our own 4K TV display?

A new proposal called Solutionary Rail would electrify the U.S. rail system and up-grade electric power transmission lines at the same time. Clean Technica in an on-line article said that the proposal, “has the potential to unlock clean, reliable freight and passenger mobility for the entire country.” This proposal could increase solar and wind farms in rural areas by bringing an up-dated grid system closer to locations that would generate these sources more efficiently.

Closer to home, candidates should be able to offer answers to our transportation system. How are tolls on high ways being used to improve congestion? If ST3 is repealed, how would the continued lack of light rail contribute to congestion and how much more would light rail cost in the future when we experience perpetual gridlock?

Electric vehicles are being designed and built around the world by start-up companies. While behind schedule, Tesla, recently produced 5,000 Tesla 3s in June and promises to be producing 5,000 cars a week. Over 450,000 Tesla 3s have been ordered by customers.

There are over 16,000 electric buses in Shenzhen, China. When will all of our public transportation and school buses be 100 perfect electric? Electric passenger jets and electric ferries are being developed. With our transportation manufacturing expertise, what are elected officials doing to promote clean energy technologies in our region?

If you are approached by a candidate for office, please offer them a few minutes of your time. Their time on weekends and evenings away from their families speaks to their commitment to doing what they believe will make our lives better. Ask questions and follow up questions until you are satisfied. Above all else, please vote.

Primary elections in Washington State are scheduled for Aug. 7.

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