25x’25

I spent much of the last week at the 25x’25 “Twenty-Five by Twenty-Five” second implementation planning meeting.  25x’25 is a coalition advocating the vision that “By 2025,
America’s farms, forests and ranches will provide 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the
United States, while continuing to produce safe, abundant, and affordable food, feed and fiber.”   That’s at least 25% of our energy from renewable sources.

            25x’25 is an open alliance; the participants are the organizations who have endorsedthe 25x’25 vision outlined above.  These include 18
US Senators, 91 Congressmen, 18 state governors, 4 state Legislatures (including
Colorado).  I attended the conference as the representative of the
Colorado Renewable Energy Society. 

            I highly encourage my readers to endorse 25x’25 (you can endorse as an individual, or as an organization, or both.)  Your endorsement helps them demonstrate that a broad swath of Americans support the 25x’25 vision, and will help convince the US House and Senate to pass the concurrent resolutions for 25% of the nation’s energy supply to come from renewable sources.

We are currently in the process of coming up with our vision of how
America can achieve 25x’25.  Any endorsing individual or organization can participate.  The goal is agree on a series of recommendations (the Implementation Plan) as to how we can achieve the 25x’25 vision.  When the Implementation Plan is complete, which we plan to achieve by January, in time for the next congressional session, all partners will have a chance to endorse the plan.

Since the whole process is by consensus, and the 25x’25 goal is an ambitious one, it would be easy to believe that the Implementation Plan will turn out to either be watered down to the point where it does not say anything, or end up endorsing so many points of view that it would be ludicrous to call it a plan at all.

Having now participated in two conference calls and two days of face-to-face meetings, I’m happy (and somewhat surprised) to report that we’re actually managing to form a consensus among a large group of people and organizations you would not expect to get along under ordinary circumstances.  For this, I can only shake my head in wonder at the diplomacy and perseverance of the Steering Committee.  They managed, though two days of what could have turned into a verbal free-for-all, to keep us all focused on the need to work together to reach the very ambitious goal we’ve all agreed upon.  (In that same spirit, and understanding that many of the participants have been willing to voice their true opinions and step away from the party line, I will not name any names here.  This also has the advantage of covering for my lousy memory for names.)

How do they do it?  By keeping us focused on the fact that we all agree on the goal: 25% of our nation’s energy from renewable sources by 2025, and reminding us that we’re never going to get there by half measures.   The second thing they did was keeping the discussion focused on “Yes, if…”: continually reminding people to stay in the mode of working together, and instead of thinking about all the reasons that something was impossible to accept, to instead say “I could accept that if it were this were also to happen.”

So my kudos to the people I met on the steering committee.  I was impressed.

On to the specifics, the Implementation Planning is organized into five workgroups: Biofuels, Electrical Generation From Renewables, Public Outreach And Education, Renewables In Other Sectors, and Natural Resources and Wildlife.  I initially told them I could participate in the Biofuels or Electricity workgroups, and I ended up being added to both, although I could not participate in both at the Implementation meeting, since they took place concurrently.

However, before the meeting, I was able to participate in conference calls of both workgroups, which gave me an idea of what the issues in each group were, and how I could contribute.  The two groups were a study in contrasts. 

Electricity Generation

Electricity generation is the center of the greatest controversy, with the greatest number of entrenched interests.  The most controversial subject within this controversial workgroup was carbon caps and/or renewables mandates (which serve similar purposes.)  Certain representatives of large interests were particularly intransigent, claiming that mandates were unnecessary, and that voluntary self-regulation was best.  They pointed to recent progress with wind in some Midwestern Electric Coops (I forget the specific projects to which they referred.)  I was later told by another attendee that that project had actually been the result of the coop in question responding to a mandate.

With the exception those two advocates, the consensus was that carbon caps or renwables mandates will be essential to reaching our 25x’25 goal.  Again, I am not naming names here, in the faint hope that these representatives will stop saying “No mandates” and start saying “Yes, if…” to mandates or carbon caps.  But my feeling is that they are not really behind the 25x’25 goal, and will likely leave the coalition when they find they are unable to derail it.

Other issues in electricity generation are access to the grid, building generation, and educating the public: many of the misconceptions the public has about wind turbines are based on the first-generation turbines built in
California, which unfortunately killed many birds, caused flickers in the electricity grid nearby, and occasionally lost blades.  None of these problems exists in the current generation of turbines.

I found that most of the discussion became very technical (when it was not very controversial), and the complexity of the legal issues involved left me feeling that I had little to contribute.  That, combined with the fact that I knew Ron Lehr would be representing AWEA on the Work Group, I felt that I would not have a lot more to contribute.  I’ve heard Ron speak on several occasions, and when it comes to electricity generation, I’m happy to take my queues from him.  That is not to say that Ron was the only renewables advocate in the group (there were many more,) only that I know his expertise well enough to feel that base was well covered, so I decided to devote my attention to the Biofuels work group.

Biofuels

The biofuels group was shocking in its lack of controversy.  The central problem for biofuels is how to get enough.  25x’25 is committed to producing both biofuel and food, and even if all food crops were repurposed for energy production (something which we would not consider,) there would still not be enough biofuel to reach the 25x’25 goal: other technologies, such as cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel from algae will be essential, and while cellulosic ethanol is approaching the point where will be competitive with gasoline from petroleum, it’s not quite there yet.  When it comes to the production from biofuels, no one know what the technological landscape

We agreed that incentives should be used to increase the sustainability of biomass harvesting, based on carbon emissions/sequestering and other environmental factors.  There was general agreement that genetically modified organisms might be necessary for the production of biofuels.

My greatest fear for this group, given that about two thirds of the representatives were from various agricultural or forestry interests, was that each group would try to write in a mandate for their particular feedstock into the Implementation Plan, but that was not the case at all.  We unanimously agreed that our recommendations should be feedstock neutral.  Corn growers, in particular have a bad reputation for the 51 cent per gallon ethanol subsidy, but they did not even try to argue for this subsidy to continue indefinitely.  They realize, that if biofuels are to displace 25% of liquid fuel use by 2025, there will not be money to subsidize fuel at the same rate, and every bit of available feedstock will be needed; there is no reason to favor one feedstock over another, because all will be winners.

Everyone also recognized the need for energy efficiency, in the form of a more efficient transportation fleet, to cut America’s liquid fuel problem down to a more manageable size, although I did feel the need to bring this up once or twice, just to keep it in people’s minds.  25x’25 is dealing with energy efficiency as a “cross-cutting issue,” i.e. something that applies to all the workgroups, so everyone is dealing with it, yet no one has sole responsibility for energy efficiency, and I feel the need to bring it up every now and then and make sure it does not get lost in the shuffle.

One other point of agreement in the biofuels group that surprised me was that we were able to conclude that tariffs on biofuel imports were not consistent with reaching the 25x’25 goal in a global marketplace.  We generally concluded that, while the US might not be the lowest cost producer of biofuel feedstocks, the demand would so far outstrip the supply that the supply from low cost producers in tropical countries would be easily used in those countries own economies, and by other energy consumers with much less native biomass than the Unites States.  I envision a world where the US imports cellulosic ethanol via pipeline from Canadian forests to the West Coast, and exports ethanol via tankers in the Gulf of Mexico to Europe.  Forcing the US to meet its own biofuel needs with domestic fuels would lead to transportation problems because it is very difficult to move anything from the energy exporting Great Plains to energy-hungry California.

The biggest competitor for US biofuels is petroleum, not tropical biofuels.

Conclusion

I’m very optimistic about where 25x’25 is going.  They are a well-organized movement, with strong bipartisan political support.  If we are going to succeed in moving this country quickly to a renewable energy future, it will be in large part due to the efforts of all the dedicated and talented people contributing their efforts to 25x’25 and groups like it.

 

Extra: Cleantech blog on 25x’25

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3 Comments

  1. Tom, I’m glad you let me on to this. I’ve endorsed 25×25 and think it is an extremely important program.

    In business school, we talk about supplier + customer power and how a business can get into a risky position if it relies on a supplier or customer too much. In this respect, Walmart is doing good business with a diversified bunch of suppliers and customers (other than systematic similarities like buying a large percentage of goods from China, etc.).

    So if we’re smart, we going to diversify our energy sources and get serious about this 25×25 program. I’m on board.

  2. [...] Apparently, the consensus of the 25x’25 biofuels working goup I spoke of over the weekend was an illusion based on the fact that the opponents had not spoken up and we had moved on to other subjects.  We’re currently discussing the subject over email, and I thought my argument against a tariff was worth postin here: [...]

  3. [...] It gives me hope to be working with agricultural groups in 25×25 and Christians asking “What Would Jesus Drive?” in the National Council of Churches. [...]

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