5th Learning Session-Technology and Climate Mitigation

Focusing on where Washington State energy comes from, how much heat or energy do our homes and workplaces use, and how we travel, the following eight presenters talked about these topics from their fields of expertise.

Eileen V. Quigley, the Founding Executive Director of the Clean Energy Transition Institute, spoke about Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions Pathways. Quigley identified five “pillars” of decarbonization with energy efficiency as the number one “bedrock” strategy. Using clean electricity and reducing fossil fuel use were the next two most important. Fuels that still need to be used must be “as low-carbon as possible,” she stated. For uses that can be neither electrified nor converted to low-carbon fuel, the emissions must be captured and sequestered or used to produce clean synthetic fuel.

During the 2020 Legislative session, Washington state passed the Clean Energy Transformation Act that updated the GHG limits set in 2008 to reduce emissions to 1990 levels.

Washington State emission targets:

  • 2020: 1990 levels
  • 2030: 45% below 1990
  • 2040: 70% below 1990
  • 2050: 95% below 1990
  • 2050: Net-zero

The 2050 target would require sequestering the last 5% of residual emissions. “These targets require transformative and aggressive action,” stated Quigley.

Another way to look at the emissions reductions is called, “The 2030 Challenge: 53% Reductions in Emissions.” This is the percentage of emissions reductions needed in 2030 of the total needed in 2050. Quigley stressed our targets are more challenging to reach than a higher coal-dependent state, like Oregon that can attain its targets by eliminating coal usage. Because we already use mostly hydropower, Washington will need to address tougher areas such as transportation, where fuel use will need to change to electric, synthetic and biofuels. She also explained that purchasing wind energy from Montana and Wyoming will likely be required. A regional approach will be needed as we will be getting energy from different states. Some technologies have yet to be developed and the ones we will invest in for 2030, may be outdated by 2050.

Throughout the many climate change and mitigation issues is equity, which applies to all of them, Quigley explained. Using the least-cost approach gives direction and frames technical choices but ignores equity. She believes communities need to have control of their resources. Her research shows that Ferry and Okanogan counties in Eastern Washington, where large Native communities live, have the most heavily energy-burdened populations. An enormous opportunity exists find and implement better ways to care for these vulnerable communities.

Nancy Hirsh is the Executive Director for the NW Energy Coalition. Her presentation on Energy Policies focused on the role of infrastructure, energy sources, utilities, etc., in reducing GHG emissions in Washington State. There are a variety of energy utilities in WA State: one electric, two combined electric and fossil gas, and two fossil gas only. Unique to our state is the sixty-three consumer/publicly-owned electric utilities consisting of: municipal, public utility districts, cooperatives, and mutuals.

The percentage for wind energy in WA is low because some of what’s produced here isn’t used in Washington. The hydro system is challenged because with less snow, which is a great storage system, and more rain, the reservoirs have limited storage and get overwhelmed. According to Hirsh, the most debated clean energy resource is nuclear energy. It doesn’t have any immediate emissions, but it has other environmental and safety impacts.

Most of our fossil gas comes from Canada and the Rocky Mountains. Historically it came only from Canada until the 1990s, and early 2000’s when a pipeline from the Rocky Mountains diversified the source.

In the utility sector, Hirsh noted that a lot has been done, including many policies that reduce the emissions of independent power plants and include a fee. Washington was one of the first states to put a price on carbon. It’s very low and doesn’t have much impact, but it was a tool to influence future pricing. Other policies expand renewable energy and energy efficiency. There are voluntary programs to purchase renewable energy, provide solar incentives, and expand renewable gas.

Hirsh concluded with the need to accelerate GHG emissions reduction and identify where we are wasting energy. The utility sector needs to change from providing electricity to providing energy services. Managing usage such as when electric cars are being charged and solar roofs are being used will also be important to support the energy system. Hirsh envisions a harmonious energy system where customers play a critical role in meeting energy needs.

Kate Simeon is the Executive Director of the Carbon Leadership Forum and Professor and Chair of the Department of Architecture at the University of Washington. Her presentation was on Building Decarbonization. She noted, “Buildings consume a significant amount of energy and produce carbon emissions, but building decarbonization can result in a lot of positive changes to climate, health, and equity.” Making the buildings also uses energy and creates emissions. Decarbonization of buildings looks at taking emissions out of all aspects of buildings from constructing them, transporting the materials, operating them, and finally removing them. The building’s energy consumption is a factor, too.

Simeon noted four areas to make policies for decarbonizing buildings. These areas are existing buildings, new buildings, the electrical grid, and building materials. Each area has specific strategies to be used. At this point in her talk, Simeon noted comments from those in the Assembly, including “overwhelming, and daunting.” She reminded them, “It’s not our responsibility to know everything of all the answers. It’s our responsibility to identify where the places are that we can individually and collectively act, as well as how to support larger-scale actions.”

Key strategies for decarbonizing buildings include, according to Simeon, being smarter about the design, building less, using existing buildings, and using less carbon-intensive materials. Manufacturing with cleaner energy and using newer materials that can store carbon would also help. She noted the Nucor steel plant in Seattle has one of the world’s lowest carbon footprints.

“It’s not our responsibility to know everything of all the answers. It’s our responsibility to identify where the places are that we can individually and collectively act, as well as how to support larger-scale actions”.

Biogenic materials like wood and grasses reduce emissions. A current state bill, Buy Clean Buy Fair (HB 1103), addresses this. “Improving environmental and social outcomes with the production of building materials” is another positive step. Government purchasing provides a major impact on the market. Simeon’s final comment was “decarbonizing buildings generates jobs and positive health impacts.”

Andrea Axel is the Executive Director of Spark Northwest, a small seven-person organization that builds community clean energy projects that are equitable and affordable. She spoke about Community Energy Planning. The communities with the fewest resources are the ones targeted for these projects. She began by acknowledging the inequality around climate change called the Green Divide. The benefits of fossil fuel usually go to the more privileged. The harm is felt by those in poverty, since many have been forced to live in the most polluted areas due to systemic racism. Axel provided an example of state incentives in 2015 to put solar roofs on single-family homes, which mostly went to those with incomes over $90K.

Three key thoughts for a just transition to clean energy include moving political power and control of production into the hands of the community, ensuring a fair distribution of benefits and burdens, and centering concerns on marginalized people. During a project to install solar panels on homes for families with low wealth, it was discovered that adding more debt would not work, This project raised money to include more funding to ensure debt would not be increased.

When offering public funding Axel believes it needs to be very clear who is qualified and what the requirements to receive the funding need to be. Having technical support and community planning is important. Workforce development coupled with clean energy strengthens the community. The final question wrapping up her presentation was, “Does this policy shift power and wealth to marginalized communities?” If it does, then proceed.

Annabel Drayton is a Policy Associate at NW Energy Coalition and spoke on Transportation and the Energy Sector, including walking, biking, driving, flying, traveling by train, ferry or bus, and more. Drayton reported the average US household spends almost 20% of its total income on transportation expenses, and there is a need to reduce emissions.

According to Drayton, many policies are already in place, such as; electric utility investments in transportation electrification, zero-emission vehicle standards, tax credits and exemptions for alternative fuel vehicles, EV-ready buildings, and state grant programs.

One need Drayton identified was legislation to establish a clean fuel standard that would also generate millions of dollars in revenue and help consumers. Advanced clean truck rules and medium heavy-duty vehicle incentives should be similar to ones already in place for light-duty trucks. Installing accessible charging stations would provide options beyond charging vehicles at home. More outreach and education are needed to help people make better decisions to choose vehicles. Decarbonization programs for transportation could be funded by carbon pricing.

Joe Fitzgibbon, State Representative for Washington’s 34th District, chairs the House Environment and Energy Committee, presented with Ali Lee, Co-Chair of the Climate Reality Project, on Clean Fuel Standards and how it can reduce GHG emissions and climate mitigation. In May, Rep. Fitzgibbon wrote an Op-Ed article with four WA State representatives calling for this Climate Assembly. Rep. Fitzgibbon has sponsored a bill to implement a low carbon fuel standard in WA state for the last four years.

For the last two years, the bill passed out of the House of Representatives, but not the Senate. Rep. Fitzgibbon is hopeful that HB 1091 will pass this year. We are the only West Coast state that doesn’t have this policy in place. British Columbia also has a policy for clean fuel standards. It requires the producers of transportation fuels to gradually reduce their fuels’ GHG emissions. They can do that either by producing different kinds of fuels such as biodiesel, renewable diesel, ethanol, and mix that into their current gas, or they can buy a credit from a producer of clean fuel. The Transportation sector is more difficult to decarbonize than other areas and has not received the legislative support to do that as other sectors have.

One benefit is new markets for rural economies in Washington will be created for products produced on farms and in forests. Rep Fitzgibbon provided the following examples of those products. Dairy farms can capture cow manure, put it into anaerobic digesters, and convert it to renewable natural gas to be used for transportation fuel. Canola grown heavily in eastern Washington, especially around the Moses Lake area, can produce a very energy-dense biofuel. And lastly, waste products from forestry, the parts of trees that have no market value, can be made into cellulosic ethanol. He noted these fuels reduce carbon emissions and decrease other forms of pollution, such as benzene, a carcinogen, and carbon monoxide, which is a huge contributor to infant and maternal mortality. In California, electric vehicle (EV) owners receive $850 in annual rebates for the clean fuel credits that are used to support electrification of transportation, and he would like similar rebates to be available in Washington.

Ali Lee continued the review of HB 1091, the Clean Fuel Standard. She explained this policy is just the beginning of many more needed for transforming and decarbonizing the transportation sector. By 2028 this bill requires a decrease of 10% of carbon intensity fuels, and by 2035 a decrease of 20%. It also requires the Department of Ecology to set further guidelines to decrease the carbon intensity by 2050. It will require oil companies to help with carbon credits for those companies producing clean fuel.

Lee noted HB 1091 is also a strong electrification policy because electrified transportation and electric vehicles are expected to be the largest renewable energy growth area in order to comply with the clean fuel standards. By 2030 it is predicted the world will be at 90% EVs. In Washington State, Lee explained, “Producers can make their fuels cleaner, and more efficient or pay clean fuel producers. It’s not just from the beginning, but the whole cycle from the well to the wheel and through to the carbon emissions.”

Pedro Valverde is a retired professional electrical power and renewable energy engineer licensed in Washington State. As a volunteer with the Kitsap Environmental Coalition, he presented on Local Action in Renewable Energy. Valverde reviewed the value of clean energy, existing legislation, policies, and regulations. Using renewables will have lower costs than using fossil fuels. He explained the new renewable energy language, such as “prosumers” who produce their own power and “DERS,” Distributed Energy Resources. Within the next five years, Valverde believes natural gas usage will increase to reduce emissions, and forests will provide increased sequestration.

The Learning Session ended with a waterfall chat for Assembly members to identify one recommendation they would make to the State Legislature right now. Then members “gathered around the campfire” for final thoughts. An observer, Robert Richards, evaluating the Assembly, requested the members complete a short voluntary survey that would be used to improve the Assembly by making adjustments to the Assembly and give members a better learning and discussion experience.

The 6th Learning Session will be Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021, from 6 pm to 8 pm and available on the YouTube Channel for the WA Climate Assembly.

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