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July 08, 2020 Column

Editor’s Column

By William R. Drexel

ESG (environmental, sustainability and governance) issues have attracted increasing public attention, particularly in the wake of the Business Roundtable’s adoption of a revised statement on the purpose of a corporation last year. We have devoted this Infrastructure issue to ESG in recognition of the heightened notoriety of those principles. This issue features an article by Mark Strain and Stephanie Green analyzing the technological drivers causing a paradigm shift in the prominence of renewable sources of electricity in meeting our nation’s energy needs.

In Electric Resource Planning in an Era of Burgeoning Renewables, Mark and Stephanie explain how technological changes are fostering increasing shifts to renewable electric resources. Environmental concerns have caused the retirement of 15 percent of our nation’s coal-fired electric generation resources from 2017 through 2019. At the same time, declining costs of renewable electric generation coupled with increased efficiency of battery storage technology have spawned unexpected growth in renewables, particularly wind and solar. Battery storage bolsters the reliability of renewables by helping to meet electric demand when the wind does not blow or the sun does not shine.

Reflecting this paradigm shift, renewable sources of electric power represented 20 percent of total electric usage in our country during the first half of 2019. Moreover, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) reported that wind power met 22 percent of its needs in July of 2019 and exceeded coal-generated electricity for the first time. Additional change is on the horizon as more than 700 megawatts of battery storage capacity is being built in Florida and New York. Further, Southern California Edison is procuring 770 megawatts of battery storage capacity, which is enough to satisfy 3.5 percent of California’s peak afternoon electric needs. Finally, projects are underway by ERCOT that will increase electric storage in Texas six-fold to almost 600 megawatts by the end of 2021. Due to these dramatic changes in the economic viability of renewable electricity, renewables are slated to become the primary source of electricity in the country, exceeding even natural gas, by 2045.

I want to take this opportunity on behalf of the entire Section to thank Chris Binnig for his service as our Chair this past year during one of the most tumultuous eras we have endured. Chris has been a prolific and dedicated contributor to our Section for many years. However, this past year required Chris to lead us through old challenges that we knew we faced, like attracting and retaining new and more diverse members, and others, like the pandemic and associated economic shutdown, that we scarcely could have imagined. Unfortunately, we were not able to meet this spring and raise a glass of fine wine to celebrate Chris’ success—aided and abetted by his better half, Katie. I plan to raise a glass when this issue arrives as a stopgap until we can again meet in person to honor Chris and Katie.

We hope you enjoy this issue. As Chris noted in his column, we have begun regular podcasts focusing on topics in Infrastructure. Our first podcast was on net neutrality, which was the subject of an article in the Winter 2020 Infrastructure issue. Before this issue is printed, we will have broadcasted our second podcast on the Safety Act, a subject addressed in our Fall 2019 issue. Both of these topics are very timely in view of the increase in remote working and learning due to the pandemic and the associated demands and cyber threats to the infrastructure supporting those remote activities. Along the same lines, we plan to devote our Fall 2020 issue to COVID-19–related infrastructure issues.

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