FERC Commissioner: Listen to the Scientists

FERC Commissioner: Listen to the Scientists

RUTLAND HERALD 10/21/20
By Keith Whitcomb Jr. 

A federal energy regulator, nominated to his position by President Donald Trump, told those attending a virtual renewable energy conference Wednesday that America needs to listen to scientists on man-made climate change.

“We’ve got to stop having these disagreements as to whether greenhouse gas emissions and anthropogenic causes are leading to climate change,” said Richard Glick, a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission commissioner. “Everywhere in the world, I used to work for a renewable energy company that was headquartered overseas, and the United States is the only country in the world that’s even having this debate.”

Glick was appointed as a FERC commissioner in 2017 by the U.S. Senate. FERC is a federal agency that regulates the transmission of electricity, natural gas and oil across state lines. Glick was previously general counsel for Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Prior to that, he worked for Iberdrola, a global renewable energy company. His remarks were made at Renewable Energy Vermont’s annual renewable energy conference, held virtually because of the global pandemic.

He was asked what three things the United States needs to do to expand the use of renewable energy. Besides believing climate scientists, the country needs to build out its electricity transmission system.

“We have a ton of wind capability off the East Coast and maybe off the California coast as well, and we have a ton of wind capacity in the middle of the county that’s not being accessed,” he said, adding that there’s also solar and wind in the South and Southwest.

The country needs carbon regulation on a federal level as well.

“Otherwise, some states are going to be more concerned about climate than others,” he said. “Even in New England there are some states that have greater concerns than others. I won’t name names. If you’re going to work on a regional basis, it doesn’t work unless you have some sort of federal overlay.”

Glick said he wants to see FERC do more to take into account past subsidies traditional energy sources, such as natural gas and coal, have received. There has been a push by non-renewable energy interests to see recent renewable energy subsidies accounted for and offset by independent system operators (ISO), which regulate energy prices over regions. He fears this will undermine the ISOs and similar entities, which overall are a good thing.

“Given the fact that the federal government is relatively AWOL when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, it’s really up to the states at this point to address those issues,” said Glick. “I don’t think the commission blocking state policies, whether it be intentional or inadvertent, is the way to go at this point. I’m hoping we pursue a more accommodating set of policies.”

The events other speakers included journalists and communications specialists in the renewable energy arena. Among them was Michael Shank, of Brandon, communications director at Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance.

He had some advice for people speaking to a general audience about things related to climate change. Mainly, don’t overwhelm them.

“We are needing people to do everything now,” he said, adding that the narrative around climate change has been, people need to change how they live, eat and dress immediately to stave off a climate crisis.

“Myriad asks, and it can feel overwhelming, so what I encourage my cities to do is just deep-dive on one ask for a month, or for a year, and get your audience on board with that one ask,” he said. “It’ll be clear for the audience, it’ll be easier to consume, and they won’t feel overwhelmed by all the things we have to do.”

He said the messaging around climate change, to be effective, has to take into account what might be competing for its audiences’ attention. Many people are extremely busy, or struggling with issues such as poverty or food insecurity.

“I don’t encourage my cities to lead with a climate message or an environmental message, or a normative message, or a moral message because I don’t think that resonates with everyone,” he said, adding that a better job needs to be done looking at these issues from the angle of human needs, be they economic or health-related.

People communicating climate change issues often lead with messages and data, and instead should think like advertisers. He cited the GEICO insurance commercials as an example, saying they often lead with entertainment and save their sales pitch for the end.

Normally, REV would hold its annual conference in a day, but owing to the pandemic, this was the first in a series of online events. The next one is Nov. 18 and will feature Kelly Speakes-Backman, chief executive officer of U.S. Energy Storage Association, as its keynote speaker. Agendas and registration links for that and the other events can be found at revermont.org.

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com