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2010 Annual Lecture Series

Lecture Summaries
June 8-11, 2010

Tuesday, June 8, 3:30 p.m.
Transforming America’s Energy Systems
Susan Tierney, The Analysis Group
Lecture Summary Prepared by Eleni Gesch-Karamanlidis

Summary

The United States is heavily dependent on fossil fuel and much of its energy infrastructure is found along the coast, especially in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is home to many offshore gas fields, petroleum refineries and LNG plants. According to Susan Tierney, managing principal with Analysis Group and opening speaker in the Metcalf Institute 2010 Annual Public Lecture Series on Tuesday, June 8, Americans have enjoyed “cheap” energy relative to the rest of the world and have come to expect low-cost fuel. It seems that the cheaper the gas, the more each person consumes. The same seems apparent in coal country, which has the lowest electricity prices and high per capita usage. Cheap energy has created much resistance to change because new energy technology that threatens to raise prices does not usually garner much political acceptance.

Tierney pointed out that Cheap energy has spurned increased productivity in the U.S., but it comes with many unintended negatives such as oil spills and pollution. Our energy system is also vulnerable to the economic fluctuations of the fossil fuel market and to climate conditions. Climate conditions have an effect on the amount of fossil fuels collected, the way in which they are transformed into energy, how they are delivered to consumers and their ultimate consumption. The system’s vulnerability to Mother Nature was demonstrated in 2005 when 75% of the Gulf’s 4,000 drilling platforms were shut down because of Hurricane Rita.

As climate change has emerged as a hot topic in American policy in recent years, New England and Southwestern states have emerged as leaders in the renewable energy production race. Some New England states have vowed to substantially curb emissions within the next 15 years; sites for offshore wind farms have been identified in Maine, Rhode Island and Massachusetts because of the suitable wind resources in these areas. Tierney noted that wind is an attractive energy source because peak wind speeds coincide with peak energy usage.

Moving forward with renewable energy production is difficult for several reasons, according to the speaker. First, firms are apprehensive of taking risks on new technology. Second, new technology means building new transmission lines, which could increase the cost of electricity for the consumer. Finally, most people agree that renewable energy technology is beneficial, but many are hesitant to see this technology in their own backyard.

Pursuing renewable energy technologies presents potential benefits that outweigh the costs. Future projections note that if energy production is allowed to continue on its current trend, carbon dioxide emissions could triple in the next 50 years. Tierney concluded by warning that the rapid increase in carbon dioxide emissions means that the longer we wait to do something about the rate of carbon dioxide emissions, the more reductions will be needed to avoid the tripling prediction.

Bio

Susan Tierney is a managing principal at Analysis Group, Inc., where she is an expert on economics, regulation and policy in the electric and gas industries and utility sector. She has consulted to business, industry, government, and other organizations on energy markets, economic and environmental regulation and strategy, and energy facility projects. She previously served as the assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Energy, and in various senior positions in state government in Massachusetts, including as the secretary for environmental affairs, commissioner at the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities, chairman of the Board of the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, and executive director of the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Council. She recently chaired the Massachusetts Ocean Task Force and the Massachusetts Oceans Advisory Commission. Tierney co-chaired the Department of Energy Agency Review Team for the Obama/Biden Presidential Transition Team. She has authored numerous articles, speaks frequently at industry conferences and serves on a number of boards of directors and advisory committees, including those of the National Commission on Energy Policy and the Energy Foundation. She is on the board of directors of the Clean Air Task Force, Clean Air-Cool Planet, World Resources Institute, and is a director at Evergreen Solar. Inc., at EnerNOC, Inc., and at Ze-gen Inc. She chairs the Advisory Council of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and serves on the Environmental Advisory Council of the New York Independent System Operator, and the China Sustainable Energy Program’s Policy Advisory Council. She has taught at the University of California at Irvine, currently teaches at MIT. Tierney earned her Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in regional planning at Cornell University. (June 8 public lecture) E-mail: STierney@analysisgroup.com


 

Wednesday, June 9, 3:30 p.m.
Powering the Future: How Renewables and Efficiency Can Remake the Grid
Jennifer Weeks, Freelance Journalist, moderator; Timothy Roughan, National Grid; Riley Allen, Regulatory Assistance Project; Seth Kaplan, Conservation Law Foundation
Lecture Summary Prepared by Eleni Gesch-Karamanlidis

Summary

This panel began with an introduction by moderator Jennifer Weeks, a freelance writer who covers many aspects of energy. Weeks began by explaining why the power sector is a major focus of the renewable energy movement. First, this sector generates more than 33% of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from human activity. Second, all major fuels used to generate power have environmental impacts-radioactive waste, habitat loss and greenhouse gas pollution, for example. Finally, the electricity sector could potentially help the United States move away from oil dependency by providing the transportation industry with alternative sources of fuel. In order to understand the renewable energy movement in the U.S., said Weeks, we need to look at how to improve the national electric grid.

The three main parts of the electric sector are generation, transmission and distribution. Historically, most attention has been given to the generation aspect of electrical power. However, there has been a recent increase in the attention paid to transmission and distribution. This is due to several factors. The first is that the national grid is old and lacking in long distance transmission lines, which allows consumers to connect to far away grid areas with good renewable energy sources. Second, the grid is so interconnected that issues in one area can trigger outages in another. Third, the way electricity is currently distributed to consumers does not give them an indication of how much they are using throughout the day nor does it denote fluctuations in the cost of production of electricity. This prevents consumers from effectively tailoring their electricity usage.

The first panelist, Tim Roughan of National Grid, explained that National Grid is only a delivery service of electricity; the company is not involved in production. This means it is National Grid’s responsibility to manage transmission lines and consumer use. Rhode Island participates in a net metering program that gives electricity credits to private consumer who generate their own electricity with wind or solar power and connect this electricity to the main grid.

Roughan noted that there has been a tremendous increase in proposals for distributed generation projects in the past 25 years, partly as a result of a decrease in the cost of solar technology. In 2009 alone, 90% of a total 90,000 kWh requested for connection to the Northeast grid were distributed generation projects.

National Grid sees several areas in need of more attention to handle renewable energy projects in the future. At a basic level, National Grid needs to maintain all distributed generation (solar or wind) systems that come on line to the grid. Once these independent projects are online, National Grid is responsible for any problems. This means the utility company needs to understand how these distributed generation projects affect each other and are affected by other factors (car accidents, inclement weather, wildlife). In the event of these types of events, National Grid needs to be able to de-energize the system to prevent outages or other consequences affecting other customers, bearing in mind that the further away an outage is to a substation, the more repair time is needed. Finally, Roughan observed, there is a need for a better understanding of how weather affects the energy source, such as sun or wind. A passing cloud can cause a significant voltage swing within a solar energy system.

Riley Allen of the Vermont-based Regulatory Assistance Project went on to describe several key challenges to integrating renewable energy into the national grid. First, current regional planning models often leave gaps in their plan for dealing with the intricate interconnection found in the grid. Second, a lot of financial investment is needed to update transmission lines within the grid. Energy sources are widespread throughout the country. Transmission lines bring electricity far from its source, whether from Canada to the Northeast or from the Midwest to around the U.S. A lot of terrestrial wind energy opportunities exist in the middle of the U.S while there is potential for photovoltaic technology in the Southwest and offshore wind technology in the Northeast. The third key challenge to integrating renewable energy into the grid is that transmission lines need to be built that aggregate the daily fluctuating energy loads to smooth out the current volatility of renewable energy. A study conducted in Europe called the Roadmap 2050 found that a combination of solar and wind technologies on a grid was more stable than wind alone.

Panelist Seth Kaplan of the Conservation Law Foundation, a New England-wide environmental advocacy organization, noted that it is important to view the issue of renewable energy as a big picture instead of focusing only the energy aspect. This big picture includes any economical considerations. He described the results of the Roadmap 2050 study, which indicated the reductions needed in each major sector to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets. Among all of these sectors, the power sector could most easily reduce emissions.

Kaplan also showed the Mckinsey Greenhouse Gas Cost Abatement Curve, which describes the costs associated with reducing carbon dioxide emissions. On one extreme of the Curve are activities that consumers can get paid to do, such as installing energy efficient lighting. Energy measures that cost nothing include installing small hydro electric projects. Energy saving measures that are very costly include carbon capture and sequestration from power plants. Overall within the renewable energy sector, he concluded, there is great demand for new technology and new applications of old technology.

Bios

Jennifer Weeks is an independent writer specializing in nature, energy and environmental issues. She has written for more than 40 newspapers, magazines, and web sites, including the Washington Post, Boston Globe Magazine, Popular Mechanics, Audubon, National Wildlife, Grist, Daily Climate, National Geographic Kids, Plenty, Backpacker, Environment, High Country News, Preservation, New Scientist, Columbia Journalism Review, and Newsweek. She also has fifteen years of experience as a Congressional aide, lobbyist, and public policy analyst. Weeks graduated from Williams College and holds masters degrees from the University of North Carolina in political science and from Harvard University in environmental policy. (June 9 public lecture and evening discussion) E-mail: jw@jenniferweeks.com

Timothy Roughan is the director of product management for National Grid’s distribution companies that serve 3.3 million customers in New England and New York. The product management group works on developing new products to provide bundled customer solutions including energy efficiency, power quality services, smart grid technologies, and distributed generation. In addition, the department identifies ways to use these customer-side distributed resources to actively manage the loads on the local electric distribution system in targeted locations. Roughan has been with the company or its predecessors for 28 years and his prior positions include director of distributed resources, business services vice president, and the manager of power quality services. (June 9 public lecture) Timothy.roughan@us.ngrid.com

J. Riley Allen is the research manager at the Regulatory Assistance Project (RAP). Prior to his work at RAP, he was the senior policy advisor to the Vermont Public Service Board and served as the director of utility planning at the Department of Public Service. For almost 20 years, he served as an economist, expert witness, and hearing examiner on a variety of major state-level policy investigations, including matters related to electric utility integrated resource planning, forecasting, electric utility industry restructuring, alternative regulation, transmission planning, and smart grid improvements. In 2006 and 2007, Riley led an effort to create a unique statewide transmission planning process that put energy efficiency and distributed generation on par with transmission for meeting reliability standards. He participated in New England regional transmission planning efforts to promote renewable energy on behalf of Vermont from 2008 to 2009. From 2001 to 2004, he assisted governments and communications regulators and in Southern Africa. Riley received an MA in economics from the University of Virginia and a BA in economics from the University of Florida.

Seth Kaplan is a senior attorney at Conservation Law Foundation and director of the Clean Energy and Climate Change Program. In this role, he focuses on fostering renewable energy, working for climate protection, and reducing the environmental impact of fossil fuel power plants. A native of Rhode Island, Kaplan worked as a real estate and environmental attorney in New York before his return to CLF, where he had previously worked as a law student. He is a graduate of Wesleyan University and Northeastern University School of Law. (June 9 public lecture) SKaplan@clf.org


 

Tuesday, June 10, 3:30 p.m.
Documentary Films: Subjective or Objective Journalism?
Peter Byck, Documentary Filmmaker
Lecture Summary Prepared by Eleni Gesch-Karamanlidis

Summary

Filmmaker Peter Byck tackled an important but often overlooked question in his Metcalf Institute lecture on Thursday, June 10: Can journalism be objective? Journalism is in fact always subjective, according to Byck; it is a form of storytelling. There is no such thing as an objective documentary because while making a film, someone has decided what to include or exclude. And, unlike traditional journalism, there is no existing mechanism to check the accuracy of statements made in documentary films.

Carbon Nation, Byck’s new documentary about solutions to the global climate crisis, strives to maintain journalistic integrity by presenting facts in context and backing up statements with at least three sources.

However, as director, he presented the documentary film as a subjective view on the renewable energy market. He explained that a director has control over all aspects of a documentary, including decisions about which scenes to include, the context provided for each scene, and how those scenes are presented to the viewer. Byck compares this process to that which a journalist undergoes when interviewing subjects and structuring a news story.

Instead of trying to be objective while producing Carbon Nation, Byck found joy in being subjective. He described the great effort taken to present a positive documentary on the issue of renewable energy and climate change. He strived to remove the politics surrounding the issues. Finally, he noted that the success of his final product was due, in part, to the serendipitous nature of networking with one contact leading him to another and surprising stories emerging during the making of the film.

Bio

Peter Byck has over 20 years experience as a director and editor. His first documentary, Garbage, won the South by Southwest Film Festival, screened in scores of festivals in the U.S. and Europe, and played at the Museum of Modern Art and Lincoln Center in New York. He has edited documentaries for Peter Jackson’s last two films, Lord of the Rings and King Kong. Byck has also worked as an editor or director for documentaries and promotional shorts for Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, MTV, Vh1, BBC, Disney and MGM, for shows and movies including “The West Wing,” “Scrubs,” “er,” The Matrix and many more. In 1986, Peter received a Bachelor of fine arts degree from California Institute of the Arts. (June 10 public lecture) E-mail: peter@carbonnation.tv


 

Friday, June 11, 11:00 a.m.
Comprehensive Energy Policy: Planning for a Clean Energy Future
Sheldon Whitehouse, U.S. Senate
Lecture Summary Prepared by Eleni Gesch-Karamanlidis

Summary

The final public lecture in the 2010 Metcalf Institute series featured two speakers who spoke about the future of energy policy on June 11. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island’s junior senator in the U.S. Congress, described the opportunities for a national energy policy that utilizes new ideas and techniques. Senator Whitehouse was followed by Professor Dennis Nixon of the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, who provided an in-depth look at the legal repercussions of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and what this means for U.S. energy policy in the near future.

Senator Whitehouse began by noting that Americans have long led international development through innovation and technologies, although this has resulted in a wide variety of environmental impacts. Oil production comes at a heavy cost, whether referring to foreign relations with adversarial countries or domestic environmental concerns. Whitehouse argued that the many costs of an oil-based economy necessitate the investigation of all possible avenues for renewable energy.

Offshore wind is a major source of abundant, renewable clean energy that can be produced locally and break America’s dependence on oil. Rhode Island’s Quonset Point is a potential manufacturing plant not only for a local wind farm project, but also the Cape Wind project off of Nantucket, Massachusetts.

Algal-derived fuel, biodiesel, geothermal, and solar projects are all potential renewable sources for meeting our energy needs. Within the current market, however, these projects would have a difficult time competing with conventionally-derived energy sources. Tax credits and incentives are needed to make the two energy markets economically comparable. A tax on carbon emissions is also needed, Whitehouse argued.

There has been great difficulty moving the renewable energy debate forward because of a lack of consideration for the unique aspects of different regions and because there has been a lack of input from some relevant interests. Currently, Whitehouse observed, federal energy legislation provides too much support for dirty energy and too little for renewable energy alternatives.

Senator Whitehouse concluded his remarks by describing a new proposal that he is developing with Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine to develop a National Endowment for the Oceans, akin to the equivalent endowments for the arts and humanities. This ocean-focused program would provide steady funding and political focus to manage, protect and conserve ocean ecosystems.

Dennis Nixon turned the discussion to a more immediate issue with import for our national energy policy: how could the BP oil spill happen? The country became complacent towards the oil industry after the Exxon-Valdez spill in Alaska in 1989 because there has not been another major environmental disaster since that time. In the absence of another oil-based environmental catastrophe, the oil industry instead focused its efforts on the reduction of other sources of oil pollution. The BP oil spill, Nixon argued, has paralyzed the legal system (due to countless lawsuits) and the country.

Nixon also noted that a source of America’s complacency towards the offshore oil industry was due to its good safety record. In 1985, offshore oil activity accounted for only 2% of oil seepage into the ocean while the marine transport industry accounted for 45%. In the decades following the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, oil companies became fearful of the risks involved with offshore oil and their associated liability in a potential spill. This industry-wide fear of risk resulted in a large reduction in the amount of oil extracted offshore, which led to a decrease in the amount of oil being handled by the marine transport industry. As a result, in 2002, the marine transport industry was responsible for only 3% of ocean oil seepage and offshore oil still had the smallest impact. The offshore oil sector had the greatest safety record so it received less attention from Congress. The public trusted oil companies to maintain this safety record as they moved operations further offshore, due to the longstanding safety record of the industry.

Nixon observed that while we want to move towards cleaner energy and conserve resources, the process is a long and bumpy road. Even many environmentally-conscious consumers still drive cars, and therefore, consume oil. Another consideration is that the second biggest revenue source after income tax to the U.S. Treasury is offshore oil. It is beneficial to the public that oil companies such as BP make money because they eventually share in the profits. The public needs to recognize that the U.S. needs oil companies to continue pumping oil so that we can fill up our cars. Our need for oil will continue until renewable energy technology is at a point where it can compete in the energy market and meet the U.S. energy demand. The legal proceedings that result from the BP oil spill, Nixon concluded, should not hamper the oil industry’s ability to drill for oil because the U.S. still requires both the resource and its economic benefits.

Bios

Sheldon Whitehouse is the junior U.S. Senator from Rhode Island. He is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and is a forceful advocate for urgent action to address the threat of climate change, especially its impact on our coastal communities. He served as a policy advisor and counsel in the Office of the Governor of Rhode Island and as the state’s Director of Business Regulation before being nominated by President Bill Clinton to be Rhode Island’s U.S. Attorney in 1994. He was elected State Attorney General in 1998, a position in which he served from 1999 to 2003. In November 2006, Rhode Islanders elected Whitehouse to the Senate, where he is a member of the Special Committee on Aging, the Budget Committee, the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, the Judiciary Committee, and the Select Committee on Intelligence. He chairs the Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts and the EPW Subcommittee on Oversight. Whitehouse graduated from Yale University and the University of Virginia School of Law. (June 11 public lecture) (to contact Sen. Whitehouse, visit: whitehouse.senate.gov/contact)

Dennis Nixon has served as the associate dean for research and administration at the URI Graduate School of Oceanography since August 2009. Prior to that, he served for eight years as the associate dean of academic affairs at the URI College of the Environment and Life Sciences. He has been a URI faculty member for the past 34 years, teaching courses in the area of marine and coastal law. A marine lawyer by training, Nixon is a member of the Maritime Law Association of the United States and the Rhode Island Bar. He is the secretary and general counsel for the Point Club, a fishing vessel insurance cooperative he helped found over 20 years ago. He is one of the three founders of the International Marina Institute, which provides educational programs and certification for professionals in the marine industry. Under a grant from the National Science Foundation, he is also the legal advisor and risk manager for the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System, and has been providing advice to all of the US academic research vessel fleet for the past 24 years. At URI, Nixon is the founding chair of the Small Research Vessel Control Board and is the primary author of the University Small Boat Manual. He also chairs URI’s Conflict of Interest Management Committee, which is concerned with the commercialization of university-generated intellectual property. He has lectured on marine law topics in 27 states and 25 countries on 6 continents. He is the author of over 50 articles and the casebook Marine and Coastal Law, first published in 1994 and released in a second edition in 2010. Nixon earned his Bachelor’s degree in history at Xavier University, his law degree at the University of Cincinnati, a Master of Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island, a Certificate on International Institutions at the University of Geneva, and a Certificate in Ocean Law from Harvard Law School. (June 11 public lecture) E-mail: dnixon@uri.edu