How Fast Could U.S. Be Weaned off Fossil Fuels With Investment in a Real Electric Grid? RFK Jr. Weighs in

(EnviroNews DC News Bureau) — Park City, Utah — In this final segment of an extensive EnviroNews interview and follow-up video series with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the environmental leader looks at the future of the electric energy grid. “We need smart transmission, we need smart grid technology, we need transmission lines that can do long-haul transport of electrons without them diffusing in the lines so that we can connect the wind farms of North Dakota to the markets in New York and New Orleans and Cleveland and Cincinnati,” he told Editor-in-Chief Emerson Urry. The interview took place in Park City, Utah on June 8, 2017, at the Waterkeeper Alliance International Conference.

Kennedy, President of Waterkeeper Alliance, likened the changes in electricity generation and use to the speed in which the automobile supplanted the horse and buggy during the early years of the 20th century. Renewable sources, distributed energy generation and electric vehicles are just a few of the technologies that require vast changes in the current power transmission system. “There’s tremendous inertia and resistance to that in the marketplace because there’s utilities who are invested in the current structure, and those are the incumbents and they’re going to be disrupted ultimately,” he said.

According to Seb Henbest, lead author of Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s New Energy Outlook 2017, “Around $6 trillion of new investment in wind and solar power between now and 2040 will reshape the world’s electricity markets.” The report calls for solar and wind to become cost-competitive even with cheap natural gas in the U.S., which has already displaced coal as the favored fuel for electric power plants. Meanwhile, the U.S. achieved a remarkable milestone in March, 2017 when solar and wind provided 10 percent of all electricity generated.

But while Western Europe is investing more than $130 billion in smart grid infrastructure over the next 10 years, investment in the U.S. is being held back by fossil fuel interests, Kennedy believes. “We’ve built something like 16,000 miles of pipeline in this country over the past dozen years and during that same period only 600 miles of transmission line, which of course is the vessel for wind and solar energy,” he explained. “The Koch brothers have made it very difficult to build a transmission line and very easy to build a pipeline.”

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has ordered a study of the power grid, which the renewables industry fears will favor dinosaur fuels. In a June 14, 2017 statement from the Center for Biological Diversity, Howard Crystal, a senior attorney, said, “This grid study is a thinly veiled attempt by the Trump Administration to keep dirty and dying power plants on life support by demonizing renewable energy.”

To Kennedy, the future is clear. “If you believe in markets, oil and coal are dead.”

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