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Sierra Club’s Brune on Wind Energy « The Washington Independent

Here’s another excerpt from my interview with Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune. Brune and I discussed wind energy and the need for new electric lines, or transmission, to carry the electricity produced by wind energy around the country.

I wonder if we can shift gears a bit and talk about coal for a few minutes. Obviously, if an RES goes into effect, then the country will have a mandate to produce at least some of our electricity from renewable sources. It seems that wind is the leading renewable right now. But as we depend more and more on wind, it seems like we’re going to have to build more and more electric lines, or electric transmission, to move that wind from one side of the country to the other. Right now, it seems like we’ll be moving it from the Midwest to the East Coast, where offshore wind hasn’t quite flourished yet. What kind of transmission investment do you think might come along with an RES?

We have done a fair amount of work on transmission from a couple of different perspectives. We’re certainly looking to reduce our dependence on coal in every aspect of that. So, one part of that fight is to stop transmission lines that will carry new coal to ratepayers. In the Southwest, we’re doing a lot of work in terms of transmission for solar.

But as far as transmission with wind, we want to make sure that a long-term transmission plan is developed that incorporates data that shows we’re reducing out dependence on coal. As we do that, transmission capacity will be freed up. We want to make sure that long-term investments in the electric grid are made so that there’s a decreased reliance on coal and an increased reliance on distributed power. If the context is broad enough to include those two items, then we’d consider supporting new transmission to make sure that clean energy is being brought to consumers from where it’s generated.

From a broader perspective, we support conservation and big investments in efficiency to reduce the growth in energy demand. We want to see the grid cleaned up so that we’re significantly reducing the amount of coal that’s being generated and natural gas to a certain point and there’s a corresponding increase in both wind and small-scale solar. And so investments in wind should be made with all of those things in mind, as opposed to adding more capacity again and again. Then there’s a separate set of factors regarding where transmission lines should be established that also guides out thinking.

What about offshore wind? Where do you see offshore wind in the next 20 or 30 years?

We expect it to grow significantly. Before the environmental impact studies have been assessed, we’re conceptually very in favor of it. We’re also quite intrigued by the idea of establishing a large-scale backbone so that some of these individual wind farms can be connected to an offshore grid that can run power up and down the coast.

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