Olivia Campbell-Andersen: Renewables increase resilience

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In the wake of this summer's rolling blackouts in California and now devastating wildfires, a recent commentary by Mr. McClaughry of the Ethan Allen Institute ("Renewable energy and blackouts") not only denied the existence of the climate crisis, but falsely blamed renewable electricity wind, solar, and hydro - for the power outages.

Stephen Berberich, President and CEO of California's power grid (CAL-ISO), stated unequivocally that "Renewables have not caused this issue." The California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission joined Mr. Berberich in an unambiguous public statement: "Collectively, our organizations want to be clear about one factor that did not cause the rotating outage: California's commitment to clean energy. Renewable energy did not cause the rotating outages," they wrote. "Clean energy and reliable energy are not contradictory goals."

In fact, to create an energy supply that will be resilient in the face of climate change, California and Vermont alike must hurry up and build a robust array of renewable energy and storage resources. The price of renewable energy has plummeted over the last decade while the costs of climate change continue to rise. Right now, the total system cost of decarbonizing California's power sector with solar, wind and battery storage is less than a baseline scenario with no new clean energy resources. Here in Vermont, we spend around $1.5 billion per year to purchase out-of-state fossil fuels. If we invested those dollars in efficient local renewable energy, Vermont families would net $323 million per year. This is the equivalent of every Vermonter saving $518 every year if we got serious and kicked our unhealthy reliance on dead dinosaurs.

Record high temperatures across the western US, drove skyrocketing demand for air conditioning not only in California, but in the neighboring states that typically supply California's back-up power. Wildfires — started by a rare, climate change induced barrage of lightning strikes — impeded power transmission. Drought depleted the state's hydroelectric resources. And lastly, at least one of the state's gas plants failed to provide power when called upon, suggesting that gas is the immediate culprit, very likely due to extreme heat.

Rather than address the real problem — climate change and resulting extraordinarily high heatwaves and drought — McClaughry would have California and Vermont exacerbate the deadly situation by burning more fossil fuels. Without the Global Warming Solutions Act passed by the Legislature, Vermont under the Scott administration will continue operating with its head stuck under bedrock, with no progress to cut climate pollution and no plan to create more resilient communities.

We've already paid too high a price for our reliance on fossil fuels — rebuilding after storms, mounting health consequences, and losing opportunities for decent-paying local jobs. Vermont's Health Department documented 18 federally declared disasters from 2007 to 2016, almost twice as many as during the preceding 10 years. Vermont has received $40 million in federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Funds just since Irene, which alone caused over $800 million dollars in damage. Just last year, the relatively minor Halloween storm cost Vermont ratepayers more than $5 million in damages. Climate change is also increasing health care costs in our state. Vermont's 3-year average incidence rate for Lyme disease is the second highest in the nation and increasing.

By vetoing the Global Warming Solutions Act and cutting Vermonters' ability to generate their own renewable energy via net metering, Governor Scott is driving the wrong way on the track. Increasing our self-reliance through local renewable energy will save Vermonters money and get people back to work faster. You can't help the vulnerable, cut costs, or grow the economy without meaningful action on climate change.

Olivia Campbell-Andersen is executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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