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June 01, 2023

King: “We’re In A Race With Climate Change,” Pushes for Rapid Energy Transition

Senator questions witness about speed, factors in transition to clean energy

Watch or download Senator King’s questioning HERE

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Angus King today continued his push for America to rapidly move towards a clean, affordable, and reliable energy future. In a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee, King questioned James Robb – President & CEO of the North American Electric Reliability Corporation – about how fast the nation can transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy sources, and what the tradeoffs of the transition will be.

“As I've been listening to this hearing, it occurs to me there's an irony and a paradox embedded in the hearing. We've heard the word premature about 100 times. The question is, and I'll quote the testimony of Ms. Lott, the American Society of Civil Engineers, identifies severe weather as the predominant cause of customer outage. We're in a race with climate change, and we're talking about outages that are caused predominantly by severe weather, which is a result of climate change. So, the question is premature, actually, we should have been making this transition years ago, and we're trying to make it in a hurry because we are in a crisis situation,” began Senator King.

“For the last million years, CO2 in the atmosphere averaged about 260 to 270 parts per million. Starting in about 1850, that started to rise steadily. Today it's at 424 parts per million… That's a 60% rise in about 150 years,” Senator King continued. “So, the question is, and I understand, it seems to me the heart of this hearing, is timing. And what is the time period [for our transition to clean energy]? Is it five years or ten years? Mr. Rob, I understand the testimony, and basically what you're saying is we're trying to transition too fast. My question, and this an honest question, is what's the right time-period that we should be aiming at”

“It's a terrific question, and it's a very tough policy problem… I believe, and I think most people studying the energy system say you need to keep balance between affordability, reliability and climate,” replied Mr. Robb. “if one gets out of whack, then bad things start to happen. And I think your question, at its roots, is how much do you value having 24/7 energy available to support the way of life we've all become accustomed to?”

“And how do you avoid a crisis that will overwhelm any electric system,” added Senator King.

“That’s the question of balance that policymakers need to figure out,” agreed Mr. Robb.

“Can you give me a year? Is it five years? Is it ten years? Should we slow the retirement of coal plants?” Senator King asked.  

“Senator, I think it depends on what you believe about our ability to create batteries or other forms of storage that can create synthetic dispatchability from intermittent resources like wind and solar,” Mr. Robb replied.

“I completely understand that. So, the question is how fast can we develop the battery or the storage technology, whatever it is, whether it's pump storage or something else, versus the contribution to the severe weather events, which are also, we’re talking about this hearing as if the only risk is a lack of capacity, when in reality, the risk is severe weather events,” concluded Senator King. “We’ve got decisions to make here.”

As a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Senator King has advocated for climate solutions that support Maine communities and has been one of the Senate’s most vocal advocates for improving energy technologies and development as a way to unlock America’s clean energy future. He has repeatedly emphasized the importance of permitting reform to unlocking the promise of clean energy development opportunities created in last year’s historic Inflation Reduction Act . In addition to a recent discussion with FERC, he has stressed the importance of streamlining and speeding project timelines while maintaining environmental standards to the Secretaries of Energy and Interior.

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