In Matt Morrison’s eyes, the Pacific Northwest isn’t like Vegas; what happens here shouldn’t stay here, at least in terms of clean energy. He believes the way we solve the energy problem in the Northwest could serve as a powerful model not just for the U.S. and Canada, but for the rest of the world.
As executive director of the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER), he sees great potential in the future of clean energy, with the Northwest well-poised to lead the way in the areas of hydroelectric power and wind generation in particular.
“We can’t always use all the wind power we produce,” he explains. “This region is the best on the planet to implement energy storage systems. If we can really solve this issue, it will be a tremendous opportunity for the whole world.”
With his keynote speech at this year’s Energy & Construction Best Practices Summit, Morrison wants attendees to envision just how big the market is for renewable energy. The industry is in the middle of an enormous transition, with the need for an even smarter energy grid to handle the two-directional requirements of the future, in which consumers of energy could become producers as well.
This transition is driven in large part by the EPA’s recently unveiled Clean Power Plan, the first U.S. policy to set a national limit on carbon pollution from power plants. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, “The states that join the race first, and run it the fastest, will win both more investment in clean technologies and less air pollution for their communities.”
The standards set by the Clean Power Plan mean that states will need to work together, which Morrison says can be a challenge due to the different energy mixes of each. He gives the example of Montana providing “coal by wire” to Washington state, which means the carbon emissions in this case are counted against Montana but actually consumed in Washington.
Cross-border collaboration is nothing new to Morrison. PNWER is a statutory public/private non-profit created jointly by five U.S. states (Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Washington) and five Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon and Northwest Territories). “The real world that I see is a collaborative space,” he says. “The future will be built on being able to collaborate to get solutions.” It’s a note of advice that works for anyone in the energy field—whether seasoned veteran or recent graduate just entering the workforce.
Besides the U.S. states working together to fulfill the standards of the Clean Power Plan, Morrison explains that our energy grid is also interconnected with Canada. “We send power back and forth due to the Columbia River Treaty,” he explains. “We send electricity to Canada equal to one-half what the dams generate.”
The Treaty itself is evergreen; it doesn’t end unless both parties decide to end it. A model treaty copied all over the world, it provides for equal shares of the balance of power generated by the Columbia River system.
For his keynote at the Summit this May 18-19, Morrison says, “I’m likely to bring out a number of questions that policymakers have to ask and answer in the future. There’s a sea change going on in the way energy is produced and consumed, creating the need for a whole new workforce.”
For more information about PNWER, visit the organization’s Web site.
Lisa Brunette is a corporate and institutional storyteller tasked with helping the Center of Excellence in Clean Energy tell its story.