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  • Writer's pictureNorCham Washington DC

Powering a Clean Energy Future: Roadblocks, Tradeoffs, and Solutions

During her trainee program this summer, Margrethe attended Think Tanks events here in D.C. on topics relevant to industries that interest our NorCham members. In this blog post series, she shares her key takeaways.


Brookings Institute, May 22nd, 2024

The Hailton Project and the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability hosted a fascinating event, "Building Clean Energy Infrastructure: Roadblocks, Tradeoffs, and Solutions." The focus? How to create a resilient and clean electricity grid. With new policy proposals on grid governance and wildfire utility risk, and a fresh look at permitting reform, the event was packed with insights.


Reimagining the Grid

Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin set the tone, introducing a fireside chat between Senator Alex Padilla and Evan Halper from The Washington Post. Senator Padilla was optimistic as he focused on federal investments like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. But he didn't shy away from the difficult political landscape—achieving emissions reduction goals will need more tech advances and R&D funding.


Diving into Policy

The first panel brought together Catherine Wolfram (MIT Sloan School of Management), Shelley Welton (University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School), and Michael Mastrandrea (Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability), moderated by Sanjay Patnaik (Brookings).


Wolfram argued for carbon pricing, saying it cuts emissions and raises revenue without hitting consumers hard. She suggested the U.S. could learn from the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism.


Welton critiqued grid governance. She pointed out that private utilities often plan in their own interests. She praised FERC’s recent actions but called for the agency to use its power more effectively to serve the public good.


Mastrandrea proposed a two-step approach to utility wildfire risk: a federal Utility Wildfire Fund tied to safety compliance, inspired by California’s wildfire management.


Facing Grid Challenges

In the second fireside chat, FERC Commissioner Allison Clements spoke with Michael Wara from Stanford. Clements explained the many challenges facing the project of modernazing the grid. Among significant roadblocks, we see an overwhelming number of interconnection requests and a painfully slow regulatory process. She called for substantial regulatory reforms.


The final panel, with Suzi Kerr (Environmental Defense Fund), Maria Pope (Portland General Electric), Mark Toney (The Utility Reform Network), and Wendy Edelberg (The Hamilton Project), identified major barriers to clean energy. They discussed local political resistance, economic impacts on consumers, and the need for better incentives.


A Call to Action

The event’s takeaway was clear: transitioning to a clean energy future is tough but doable. The experts stressed the need for streamlined permitting, strong grid governance, and strategic investments.


To explore the event further and watch the recording, visit this link.


Picture: Margrethe Frøland. Here we see, from the right, Evan Halper from The Washington Post and Senator Alex Padilla from California.

Picture: Margrethe Frøland. Here we see, from the right, Sanjay Patnaik (Brookings), Catherine Wolfram (MIT Sloan), Shelley Welton (Carey Law School), and Michael Mastrandrea (Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability).

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