Clean energy leaders discuss a 100 percent clean energy future at IREC Vision Summit

The Training-to-Jobs Pipelines for Diversity and Inclusion panel at the 2020 IREC Vision Summit. Panelists included (from left to right) Laure-Jeanne Davignon, IREC Vice President-Workforce Development (moderator); Staci Hoell, Workforce Development Manager, Solar on Multifamily Affordable Housing; Chandra Farley, Just Energy Director, Partnership for Southern Equity; Erika Symmonds, Vice President of Workforce Development and Service Learning, GRID Alternatives; and Mary Shoemaker, Senior Research Analyst, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Just before the country fell under quarantine, national, state, and local decision makers and clean energy thought leaders were able to convene in the nation’s capitol to discuss the pathways and critical steps needed to make bold clean energy goals a reality at the second annual IREC Vision Summit hosted by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (IREC).

The 2020 Vision Summit was a one-day exploration of what will be needed to achieve clean energy goals—including the goal of 100 percent clean energy nationally by 2050. Summit participants representing a broad array of industry groups, government organizations, utilities, regulators, policymakers, and nonprofits conferred to explore the challenges and opportunities around integrating higher penetrations of renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy storage, electric vehicles, and other smart technologies on the grid, and building the workforce needed to support ambitious clean energy targets inclusively and equitably.

“An extraordinary group of state and national influencers spent the day focused on turning concepts, ideas, and goals into meaningful collaborative action,” said IREC President/CEO Larry Sherwood. “Panelists and participants immersed themselves in the development and integration of policies, practices, and workforce training that will be essential to ensure that all Americans can enjoy the benefits associated with clean energy—including solar, wind, energy storage, and other transformative clean energy technologies.”

Expert panel sessions and interactive break-out discussions tackled three key themes:

1. Regulatory reform for grid transformation,

2. Training-to-jobs pipelines for diversity and inclusion, and

3. Consumer and community benefits of clean energy.

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Policy impact

The Keynote Panel focused on the critical role that policymakers, regulators, and businesses play in supporting the adoption and implementation of ambitious clean energy goals.

“We’ve found that working through these issues in a more collaborative way and more proactively is much more successful for lasting change,” said panelist Chair Sally Talberg of the Michigan Public Service Commission. “People having a voice in identifying the issues and coming up with solutions will unleash change that will endure—and that’s so essential because there is a sense of urgency with the pace of change underway in the energy industry and need for regulatory and policy certainty.”

Remarking on the importance of maintaining a laser-focus on implementation to ensure aggressive clean energy goals can be achieved, the Honorable Eduardo Bhatia of the Senate of Puerto Rico, shared his perspective from the experiences of Puerto Rico.

“In 2019 Puerto Rico mandated 50 percent of renewable energy by the year 2025 and having 100 percent by the year 2050. It’s a very aggressive schedule. Now, the question becomes, how do we make that happen…. We have the regulatory framework, the legal framework, the philosophy, and the vision. We don’t yet have the execution; we need strong leadership to make it happen.”

The Vision Summit panels and breakout discussions yielded a set of initial priorities for achieving these kinds of ambitious goals, while also ensuring the growing clean energy economy is inclusive, equitable, and reflective of the rich diversity of the United States.

In addition, Summit participants coalesced around the following key themes:

1. Regulators and policymakers across the country will need to tackle a number of complex and interrelated regulatory issues in order to integrate higher levels of distributed energy resources (DERs) on the grid to meaningfully contribute to 100 percent clean energy goals.

2. Growing the energy efficiency and renewable energy workforce should entail an expanded focus on diversity and inclusion and bringing meaningful career opportunities to historically marginalized communities.

3. The transition to 100 percent clean energy should reflect the perspectives and priorities of consumers and communities and realize widespread economic, environmental, and workforce opportunities for all Americans.

The 2020 Summit builds upon a set of foundational principles for achieving 100% clean energy established by participants in the first annual Summit in 2019. This year’s Summit continued the process of forging intentional collaboration among diverse entities.

Mark Ahlstrom, President of the Energy Systems Integration Group, observed that “we’re in the midst of an amazing revolution here…. One of the reasons I really was excited to participate [in the IREC Vision Summit] is that we’re at a time where having this broader range of collaboration throughout the whole spectrum of the industry has never been more important…. We need more people looking at how everything fits together.”

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