My first impression of the conference was the immense amount of paper that we received in neat little folders along with our nametags (Kate Costello, Vermont Commons School) upon our arrival at the Sheraton. They made it quite obvious that we were at a renewable energy conference and not a conference about conservation. Somehow, I thought the two were related. Exhibitor directory, an agenda, a map, a welcome letter, a page thanking the sponsors, attendance roster, a packet about presenters and I could go on, but "I won't bother you with excruciating details" To my amusement, after much in-depth presentation, some variation of this quote was quite common.
We were a bit late, and entered the "Emerald Promenade" just in time to hear the tail end of Governor Douglas's speech. Harvey Wasserman welcomed everyone to the conference. At 10:00, we 'mingled with the crowd,' scouting exhibits for information that could be applied to our own Commons Co-op project. We seemed quite out of place among the predominately older, affluent, white, male crowd. Despite this, everyone seemed eager to educate the younger generation, because 'we are the future.' This involved more eating than one would expect, but I suppose that is how things are done in the world of business.
At 10:20, the workshops began, and I attended the one on State Renewable Energy and Implementation. This series of presentations, moderated by Adam Necrason, consisted of Joyce Errecart of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, Riley Allen of the Department of Public Service and Mark Sinclair of the Clean Energy Group. Errecart informs us via power point about Act 61, Act 74 and the factors brought into consideration when writing theses statutes. This seems to be somewhat irrelevant to our specific purposes, but an overall background is helpful to comprehending the whole picture. She laid out the issues: the need for cheap, reliable power; ensuring this energy is clean so their are not negative effects on either our health or the environment; sustainable economic developments, which is especially critical locally, providing jobs as well as decreasing our reliance on foreign sources; and lastly raising public awareness. We need a pro-active energy policy to achieve the desired results. Act 61 concentrates on conservation alongside the development and implementation of renewables. They seek to lower the cost and raise the incentive to rely
on renewables as our energy source, while promoting conservation. Energy planning must be made 10 years in advance and businesses must report back to policy makers. She articulated to us the SPEED program, dealing with 2005-2012 and how if 10% of energy used for businesses is from renewable sources by 2013, policy makers will remove mandatory standards. Errecart went into detail around Act 74, which revolves around the storage of 'spent nuclear fuel.' This allows Vermont Yankee to go to the Public
Service Board to request permission for storing the waste.
Riley Allen showed us some nice pie graphs on the percentages of which energy sources we are dependent on at a statewide, regional and national level. We see that on a local regional level the natural gases replace petroleum but other sources remain fairly constant. He emphasizes the fact that Vermont is much to dependant on large sources (i.e. HydroQuébec and Vermont Yankee Nuclear). He spoke about the rising cost of energy, particularly after Katrina. Allen discusses the benefits of net metering and mediated modeling. Specifically, his presentation is oriented around the implementation of Act 61.
Next, Mark Sinclair told us that most action involving renewable energy to look to other states as examples, to learn from their successes and failures. He delves deeper into the subject presented by Allen, our dependence on HydroQuébec and Vermont Yankee. (He says we should spread our business among small local venues, much like a financial investment
portfolio.) Sinclair stresses the issue of maintaining low emissions while replacing these companies with local energy producers. We should keep the business in our wonderful little state. We are reminded of the repeal of the energy efficiency utility budget, which he calls a good investment. Twenty states currently have renewable standards and purchase mandates,
not including Vermont and by 2017 an estimated 25 thousand megawatts of renewable energy will be produced in our nation. Sinclair emphasizes the need for long-term contracts, and the importance of enforcement. He suggests cost caps, penalties for noncompliance and the need to keep things simple and consumer friendly. Addressing SPEED, Sinclair believes that there must be a greater subsidized incentive for businesses to make the switch rather
than just on a voluntary basis. The program must be tailored specifically to meet Vermont’s needs, and as a small state they will vary from the norm. We need to maintain flexibility and a long term perspective, to look at new, less investigated technologies and essentially maintain good public relations. This involves establishing projects in community areas, such as schools and affordable housing. Lastly, he feels that it is crucial to find the best administrator, probably through a nonprofit or committee with a background in finances to find the most innovative uses of our limited funding and resources.
At noon we ate lunch and conversed with various other attendees. Not considering myself a particularly articulate conversationalist, combined with having a nasty cold, left me at a bit of a loss. Awards were presented; the Renewable Energy Industry Champion Award, the Renewable Energy Legislative Award and the Energy Ostrich Award. My congratulations
to the winners. The recipient of the energy ostrich award was the Burlington Free Press Editorial Staff, which I'm sure was a slap in the face of sorts. I had been aware of the air of hostility between the Free Press and local renewable energy organizations, and how the Free Press has certainly not helped them any, but it does not seem to be a very diplomatic thing to do. Coincidentally or not, there was no coverage of the conference in the Free Press the following day .I thought it was a bit childish, and certainly won't help the problem any, but I haven't seen the full extent of the argument and it was certainly good for laughs. Barrie
Dunsmore then gave an address on how the Middle East has contributed to the current energy situation. Dunsmore was a dynamic speaker, but somehow I wonder if he chose the wrong profession and would be better as a teacher. His firsthand knowledge and sense of humor gave the audience a fresh view of the situation. He also talked of China's growing presence in
the modern world, which I found to be quite interesting.
Lastly, I attended a workshop focusing on ‘Our Renewable Energy Future and strategies for Action.’ This was about the Sates competitive stance in the world; how our sluggishness in developing renewables has led to us falling behind other nations. They advocated for the decentralization of electricity so we won't be as vulnerable when our leading power sources
cannot renew our contracts. A consensus was reached among the attendees as to Katrina's impact on natural gas prices and how it is crucial to take advantage of renewable technologies, to focus on our impact on future generation. This was the highlight of the conference for me. David Rapaport moderated a discussion between Richard Eidlin of the Apollo Alliance, James Moore of the Vermont Public Interest and Research Group, Cheryl King Fischer of the New England Grassroots Environment Fund, and the audience. I found this panel to be more interactive, less of a lecture and more of a conversation. Even the physical room was more oriented towards attendee participation. This workshop focused on long term sustainability and 'Reframing the issue'. They thought we should shift our perspective and efforts to capture public attention. Some suggestions on how to attain this support were to link clean energy and the economy, specifically new jobs; break the psychological barrier between renewable energy and the publics fears, especially upfront cost; shift the interpretation from an abstract 'exotic' technology to a more mainstream investment.
Educating and activating the public is essential. I personally felt that much of this is already the ideal and not many new ideas were generated; that it would have been more effective to talk about the actual implementation of these ideas. They then discussed the environmental versus political outlooks, and reached the consensus that it is imperative to switch the target to the public’s moral conscious and emotion rather than their wallets. I feel that now morals are mainly the decision making factor, if people have enough upfront money, rather than an investment. They then moved on to discuss the impact on future generation, health, the environment and other fairly routine aspects of the issue. We left early and didn't see the culmination of this panel, but the main idea was a paradigm shift revolving around public perspective on renewables. Alternative energy is not longer alternative and we must make the move now.
I have a hard time critiquing specific speakers personally because I know that it takes a certain type of person and a lot of courage to address a large crowd. Not being this type of person, I would just like to commend all the speakers on their dynamics and overall presentation, I feel that it was a great experience and all of us attending, at least from the school gained some kind of insight. I enjoyed greatly each individual speaker’s character, some harder to detect then others under all the professionalism. For example, panelist James Moore said on more then one occasion "or whatever." I think that though this aspect may be interpreted as inferior, it conveys a personal tone in the world of business, a human voice, which I consider to be very important.