A Wiki for Clean Energy

There is no shortage of ideas on how businesses, governments and households in the U.S. and other industrialized countries can become more energy efficient; same applies on how to grow cleaner supplies of energy while lowering harmful greenhouse gas emissions and doing so in ways that create sustainable jobs.

There are so many ideas, in fact, how do policymakers, engaged business leaders, informed citizens, stakeholders and the media make sense of them all? Where and how can someone track what’s been proposed? How about ideas that have been adopted and the impact they are having? What lessons might we take away from laws that aren’t working as intended?

During a press briefing last week in Washington, DC designed to begin discussing 200 such ideas, it dawned on me THIS is what every industrialized country deserves: a searchable clearinghouse of laws, policies and public proposals to scale up efficiency, produce energy that is cleaner, more cost-effective and safer while tallying the new jobs they create.

With a healthy array of non-profit, academic and myriad foundations stirring the policy pot with their own ideas, who out there is willing to create such clearinghouse?

This, of course, would be one huge undertaking.  But I think it’s doable in a way that can draw from all energy / environmental / economic points of view. It might even enable critics of policies to contribute their thoughts and invite questions that deserve to be answered.

The 200 ideas came from the Center for a New Energy Economy at Colorado State University. Founded by former Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, the Center released an extensive menu of options that do not require Congressional action. Given the stalemate there, the Center’s Powering Forward: Presidential and Executive Agency Actions to Drive Clean Energy in America now online could be an extremely helpful head start.

More than 100 leaders from private industry, utilities, academia, non-profit organizations, think tanks and others contributed their ideas with the promise their identities would be kept secret. For a handful of them, that did not matter. We’re talking about leading thinkers such as Moray Dewhurst, Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer of NextEra Energy, a large utility holding company and major renewable energy developer; Dennis Beal, Vice President – Global Vehicles at FedEx and energy consultant Susan Tierney, who served as Deputy Energy Secretary under President Clinton.  Among those who helped with Ritter included Dan Esty , Commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Heather Zichal , President Obama’s former Deputy Assistant on Energy and Climate Change (who has yet to decide on her next gig).

Among the recommendations, Ritter and colleagues urged the President to:

·          Direct the Environmental Protection Agency to explain to states how they can be credited for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from existing fossil-fuel power plants with early adoption of new energy efficiency and renewable energy measures.

·          Request that the IRS use its existing authority to issue rulings and interpretations of the tax code that increase incentives for private investors to capitalize clean energy technologies.  The idea here, Ritter said, is to make the tax code “more fair by offering clean energy the same investment tools and tax benefits now given to fossil fuels.”

·          More clearly define the President’s criteria for what he’s called “responsible” natural gas production. This would require that oil and gas companies use best available production practices on federal lands. States could then require these practices to be used within their borders.

·          ImageCompare full life-cycle benefits and costs of each energy resource as White House energy programs are implemented. A report could distinguish carbon-rich and low-carbon resources consistent with the President’s goals for minimizing greenhouse gas emissions most responsible for climate change.

You can read the Center’s full report here. See the report cover, at left.  

Using the U.S. as an example, how about if we combine ideas from this Powering Forward collaboration with the 70 or so ideas put forth by President’s Climate Change Action Plan. Next, we could call on the  American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) to weigh in with their  best ideas to further incentivize energy efficiency. The analysts there have done an enviable job of tracking and rating efficiency initiatives in all 50 of the states and the District of Columbia.

The faculty, students and staff managing the DSIRE database at North Carolina State University in Raleigh could pitch in with laws and other policies in place to develop sources of renewable energy in states throughout the U.S.  An organization such as Resources for the Future, which has weighed in recommending more even-handed ways to regulate hydraulic fracturing of shale natural gas, could begin by reflecting on the policies in the states such as Texas,  Pennsylvania and others that are producing the most natural gas with the fewest safety mishaps while controlling methane emissions.

These and countless other ideas could be submitted using a spreadsheet, web form, or some other template designed to  organize the policies, laws, thoughts consistently into a public database.

A few energy policy experts I shared this with expressed a range of responses; they either shook their head in disbelief (over why I think this is even possible) to those such as Ritter, Presidential Climate Action Project Executive Director Bill Becker and Michael Northrup, who directs sustainability programs for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Each of them saw the value but also implied the herculean effort it would entail. But they did not say no.

We gotta start somewhere. Who’s up to it?