History & Mission

The short history that follows summarizes the Energy Future Coalition’s progress through December 2016:

The Coalition’s first report set out the case for action:

We know that change will not come easily, nor will it occur overnight. To achieve it, the U.S. must address three overarching challenges:

  • We must reduce the world’s dependence on oil, helping to free consumers from the economic, political, and environmental risks that it entails.
  • We must take steps to control the emissions from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas that are affecting the global climate.
  • And we must recognize that helping developing nations to grow can be both a boost for them and in the best interest of the United States. Extending access to modern energy services to poor people around the world can demonstrate American leadership and create new markets at the same time.

Even in that first report, the mission was clearly linked to a bright opportunity vision for the future:

This new course – investing in a new energy future – is an economic opportunity for America. It is also responsible leadership – to turn away from policies that damage our earth and our health, that compromise our children’s future, and to develop the clean energy sources we’ve got.

This is a time of opportunity – a major technological revolution is beginning in energy, with great potential markets. And the reality is that where America goes, others will likely follow. America’s example for good or for ill sets the tempo and the direction of action far beyond its borders and far into the future. The world is watching to see what next step we take and whether American can-do will chart a new course for everyone.

The Energy Future Coalition set out to help “change the national conversation” toward bipartisan acceptance of the transition to clean energy as an economic opportunity, not a threat. It is within this framework that the Coalition has been working for the last 15 years.

Progress Made

The Energy Future Coalition initially focused on the recommendations of six stakeholder working groups, focused on bioenergy and agriculture, the future of coal, the smart grid, advanced transportation, end-use efficiency, and energy access for the global poor. Looking back on each of those areas, significant changes have occurred – some attributable in part to the Coalition’s leadership, others in parallel. The Coalition’s tools ranged from printed reports and op-eds and essays by our Steering Committee members to interventions by staff and even litigation with EPA. What progress can we report?

Bioenergy and Agriculture

As a direct outgrowth of the Bioenergy and Agriculture Working Group, the Energy Future Coalition supported creation of the 25x’25 Renewable Energy Alliance. More than 1000 stakeholders from production agriculture and forestry, as well as business, labor, conservation, and religious groups, came together around a new vision: “By 2025, America’s farms, forests and ranches will provide 25 percent of the total energy consumed in the United States, while continuing to produce safe, abundant, and affordable food, feed and fiber.” That vision was endorsed by Congress in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, as well as by 15 state legislatures, 11 governors and 24 former governors.

  • At the time, the 25x’25 goal was seen as ambitious, perhaps even unrealistic. Today it seems downright mainstream. The 2007 Defense Authorization Act, to take but one example, set a goal for the Department of Defense to produce or procure at least 25 percent of its electricity from renewable sources in fiscal year 2025. This year California adopted legislation requiring state-regulated utilities to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewable energy sources by 2030.

Encouraging farmers and foresters to accept the reality of climate change has been a challenge, but progress is occurring. The 25x’25 Alliance spawned a new group called Solutions from the Land – a partnership of agricultural, forestry, conservation and land management leaders, who came together to harmonize their competing interests in land use and identify integrated solutions that address the challenges of food and energy security, biodiversity conservation, deforestation, climate change and sustainable economic development. This group in turn has launched the North American Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (NACSAA) to engage with agricultural organizations, opinion leaders, and information multipliers and lead the way on climate change adaptation and mitigation services they can deliver.

  • Thanks to that careful framing of the issue as an opportunity, the American Farm Bureau Federation, for many years a formidable opponent on climate change, became one of the founding partners of NACSAA.

From its earliest days, the Energy Future Coalition has also been an active advocate for the development of liquid biofuels. Prior to enactment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Coalition organized letters to the President and the Senate from retired military officers and other foreign policy leaders calling for “a major new initiative to curtail U.S. consumption through improved efficiency and the rapid development and deployment of advanced biomass, alcohol and other available petroleum fuel alternatives” to reduce U.S. consumption of foreign oil.

  • The 2005 energy bill established the first national Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS), requiring that 4 billion gallons of biofuel be used in 2006, rising to 7.5 billion gallons in 2012. Congress strengthened the RFS in 2007, and today roughly 15 billion gallons a year are consumed in 10% ethanol blends throughout the United States. Recently the Coalition has advocated for higher-level biofuel blends (25-30%) to increase automotive efficiency and reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and toxics from aromatics – about which more below, under Advanced Transportation.

The Future of Coal

The initial working group on The Future of Coal examined the need for more research and development of technologies for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). The lack of consensus in the group was mirrored in Congress, however, and only recently has that topic resurfaced – because of the long-term need to reduce fossil fuel emissions to zero, and because of the rapid decline of coal in the American economy. (The Coalition later returned to the topic of the decline of coal communities through the Coalition’s examination of the benefits of a carbon tax and the use of its revenues.) In the meantime, “the future of coal” turned out to be a better understanding of natural gas. Technological advances made very large supplies of domestic shale gas economically recoverable, pressuring the price to such low levels that it is driving coal out of the market.

  • The Energy Future Coalition was one of the first groups to call attention to this shale gas opportunity, its implications for U.S. energy policy, and the need for responsible production practices. Tim Wirth, drawing on his experience representing Colorado in the U.S. House and Senate, spoke out repeatedly about the opportunities for natural gas – and was one of the earliest public figures in Washington to do so. In 2009 and again in 2010, in speeches to the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, he urged the industry to pursue more aggressively the opportunities that could come with moving to a low-carbon economy.

With encouragement from the Energy Future Coalition, In May 2011 Secretary of Energy Steven Chu asked a group of environmental, industry, and state regulatory experts, led by John Deutch of MIT (who had first been introduced to the topic by the Energy Future Coalition), to recommend ways to improve the safety and environmental performance of natural gas hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). The resulting report pointed to the benefits of shale gas for manufacturing costs, job creation, and repatriation of industries depending on natural gas for feedstocks, with positive implications for dependence on imported fuels. But it also noted that fracking can and does create challenging environmental impacts on surface water quality, drinking water aquifer contamination, air quality in production areas, community and regional development and infrastructure, natural habitat and wildlife, and greenhouse gas emissions, including leaked methane.

  • The Deutch Committee’s report remains the definitive assessment of the shale gas tradeoffs and set a benchmark for state and federal standards. The Energy Future Coalition hosted a number of meetings about the capacity of state governments to manage and where necessary to regulate the fast-developing shale revolution, which has led to uneven results. EPA has since finalized rules for new sources of methane and is expected to regulate existing sources.

The Smart Grid

In 2003, the smart grid (i.e., the integration of modern information and communications technologies into the management and distribution of electricity) was a relatively new concept. For that reason, the Energy Future Coalition took pains to explain in its first report the benefits of a smart grid, which would:

  • Respond to system disturbances and mitigate power outages.
  • Provide more security from physical and cyber threats.
  • Support widespread use of distributed generation.
  • Enable consumers to control the energy used in their homes and businesses.
  • Achieve greater throughput, thus lowering power costs.

The Smart Grid Working Group recommended three initiatives to hurry deployment and obtain the benefits of a smart grid: a national vision statement and demonstration program for the 21st century grid; national grid performance standards; and federal and state incentives to promote investments in smart grid technologies.

  • The Energy Future Coalition, in partnership with industry stakeholders, was active in drafting smart grid authorization language, especially for demonstration projects, that was included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. The bill authorized only $100 million per year from 2008 through 2012 – but in 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act modified that authorization and provided $4.5 billion for modernizing the grid, a transformational investment.

In consultation with stakeholders, in 2008 the Coalition developed a comprehensive legislative proposal to promote the development of a national clean energy transmission system and formed a “strange bedfellows” partnership, ranging from American Electric Power to the Sierra Club, that became Americans for a Clean Energy Grid (ACEG).

  • Elements of that proposal were advanced by the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, particularly through Order 1000 (in 2010), the groundbreaking decision that reformed regional transmission planning and cost allocation requirements, and ACEG became the leading advocacy group opposing any rollback by Congress.

Without adequate transmission infrastructure, the vast resources of wind in the Great Plains and solar energy in the desert Southwest cannot be delivered to the homes and businesses where it is needed.  Following a series of 11 regional transmission conferences over the last three years, ACEG is planning a first-ever National Electric Transmission Infrastructure Summit in Washington in February 2017.

  • Particularly valuable was a pair of studies that the Energy Future Coalition commissioned, demonstrating the price-suppression effect of wind on electricity markets. It was found that doubling the projected wind generation in the world’s largest competitive energy market, the PJM Interconnection (the regional transmission organization serving 13 states and the District of Columbia), would save consumers $6.9 billion per year by 2026, even after accounting for the capital costs of transmission and generation.

The retail electric utility industry is in the beginning stages of a massive transition driven by a wave of new digital technologies that will offer customers new options for self-generation, storage, smart controls, and timed usage to optimize their economics. The utility industry, dependent for many years on the regulated recovery of their investments through monopoly pricing, must migrate to an entirely different economic model, with major changes in risk, investor comfort, and customer relationships.  Under way is a process of creative destruction in the most important energy sector of any modern economy as we continue to electrify and computerize all energy uses, now beginning to include personal transportation.

A severe windstorm in June 2012 caused significant disruption of the power grid in Maryland, and in response the Energy Future Coalition presented recommendations to a task force on resilience appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley. Following the task force report, the Governor asked the Coalition to develop a pilot design project for the electric utility of the future.

  • The Coalition’s “Utility 2.0” report and recommendations, prepared by John Jimison, identified five key attributes utilities should adopt to be successful in an evolving energy landscape. Its recommendations for pilot projects were endorsed last year by the Maryland Public Service Commission as a condition of the Exelon-Pepco merger – specifically requiring Pepco “to examine opportunities to transform the electric distribution grid, including the incorporation of smart-grid technology, microgrids, renewable resources, and distributed generation.” The Commission recently initiated a proceeding on these issues, to conclude within 18 months.

The Energy Transition Forum, an offshoot of the German Marshall Fund, recently invited the Energy Future Coalition to collaborate on a series of transatlantic workshops for senior leaders from the public and private sectors. The first two of these joint dialogues, focusing on disruption of traditional electric utilities, occurred this year in London and Washington and will continue in 2017.

Advanced Transportation

The Transportation Working Group included participants from the three major U.S. automakers, the United Auto Workers (UAW), and two leading environmental groups. In the Energy Future Coalition’s 2003 report, they recommended incentives for manufacturing and purchasing advanced vehicles (i.e., vehicles meeting performance criteria tied to fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions), a distribution infrastructure for biofuels, accelerated development of fuel cells, and measures to reduce vehicle miles traveled, including increased availability of mass transit and high-speed inter-city rail.

  • A participant from the UAW later said our work in Detroit helped pave the way to the union’s acceptance of higher CAFE standards – an important offshoot of the 2009 auto industry bailout. He said, “The 2003 Energy Future Coalition stakeholder group on transportation provided a forum to discuss and investigate the idea of using fiscal measures as a complement to regulation in order to reduce oil use in light-duty vehicles.  A deeper investigation of this idea this led the UAW to conclude that producing more efficient vehicles would create auto-industry employment, and that with the right polices the U.S. could capture a substantial portion of the incremental employment, and that therefore the union should support regulations requiring higher vehicle efficiency.”

The Transportation Working Group also specifically endorsed the biofuels recommendations of the Bioenergy and Agriculture Working Group. Electric vehicles may be the preferred technology of the future, but until then, liquid-fuel vehicles are likely to dominate personal and freight transportation around the world. The Energy Future Coalition, as noted above, has been an active advocate for the development of liquid biofuels, particularly in interactions with EPA, as a substitute for toxic aromatic compounds – benzene, xylene, and toluene – that comprise 25% of the typical gallon of gasoline.

As early as 2005 the Coalition filed comments with EPA (on its proposed rule on mobile source air toxics), calling for replacement of these octane-enhancing aromatics with cleaner-burning biofuels. EPA has gradually ratcheted down the percentage of benzene, a known human carcinogen, to a very low level, but the others have remained untouched, even though toluene and xylene can form benzene during the combustion process. Aromatics are also considered to be the most significant gaseous precursors of carbon-based fine particulates.

The Coalition also filed comments on relevant EPA rulemakings in 2006 and 2013 and challenged EPA actions in court. In 2014 the Coalition held a workshop with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, bringing together leading researchers to discuss the potential health impacts of aromatics, and in September of this year a similar workshop was held with the California Air Resources Board.

  • The Department of Energy last year launched the Co-Optima initiative, an R&D collaboration with nine national laboratories and industry, to accelerate the introduction of affordable, scalable, and sustainable biofuels and high-efficiency, low-emission vehicle engines. DOE is investigating interactions among potential fuels, engines, and powertrains to deliver maximum energy savings, emissions reductions, and on-road vehicle performance. The Energy Future Coalition has called on EPA to integrate consideration of fuel options into its mid-term review of the Administration’s ambitious fuel economy standards.

Progress at EPA remains painfully slow. The Coalition believes that if EPA would thoroughly review the promise of biofuels, the benefits for fuel efficiency of new vehicles, and most particularly the health benefits derived from a decline in fine particulate emissions, it would overcome the understandable “ethanol fatigue” that pervades discussions of the biofuels opportunity.

End-Use Efficiency

The Energy Future Coalition has sought to help “change the rules” to make energy efficiency investments more attractive to utilities. This led, for example, to a provision in the 2007 energy bill encouraging state regulators to provide utility incentives for energy efficiency and similar language in the 2009 recovery bill.

In 2008, following the near-total collapse of the U.S. construction industry, the Energy Future Coalition and the Center for American Progress launched a new initiative, Rebuilding America, calling for “a comprehensive national strategy to transform the market and stand up a retrofit industry that can renovate 50 million residential and commercial buildings by 2020 – 40% of the nation’s building stock.” This objective was endorsed by more than 90 partners from the building trades, contractor organizations, businesses, and advocacy groups.

  • In February 2011, President Obama announced the “Better Buildings Initiative” to make commercial buildings 20 percent more energy efficient by 2020 and save their owners $40 billion a year. This attention to energy efficiency in commercial buildings owed much to the advocacy of Rebuilding America.

In the face of congressional inaction after the 2010 elections, the Energy Future Coalition turned its attention to state and local jurisdictions, especially Atlanta and Chicago, to catalyze action, specifically on commercial building retrofits:

  • In Atlanta, with the leadership of Rutherford Seydel, the mayor’s office, Central Atlanta Progress, and others, the Coalition helped create the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge in November 2011. Since then, the program has received building owner commitments covering more than 100 million square feet of commercial space, to reduce energy and water use 20% by 2020. This year, Atlanta went a step further, enacting an energy efficiency ordinance that will require owners of commercial buildings over 25,000 square feet to benchmark energy and water consumption on an annual basis. The mayor’s office anticipates that these steps will save Atlanta businesses over $100 million in 2020, create over 1,000 full-time jobs, and provide more than $8 million in public health benefits.
  • In Chicago, the Energy Future Coalition convened a group of high-level stakeholders representing real estate firms, business groups, labor, and non-profits, whose efforts contributed to the creation of a $600 million retrofit investment fund and the adoption by the City of Chicago of a benchmarking statute that creates market pressure for upgrading the energy efficiency of Chicago’s urban core. That effort in turn led to Retrofit Chicago – which also includes efforts to improve energy performance among residential and municipal buildings – as part of the Sustainable Chicago 2015 Action Agenda. It includes a voluntary leadership program for large commercial buildings that commit to increase energy efficiency by 20% over five years. To date, 50 buildings have signed on, with a total of 39 million square feet of space.

Energy Access for the Global Poor

Modern energy services are essential to economic development, and sustainable energy is essential to sustainable development – but more than a billion people in the world still lack access to electricity, and nearly 3 billion rely on traditional biomass sources, like wood and charcoal, for heating and cooking. The Energy Future Coalition’s parent organization, the United Nations Foundation, has made this a major area of emphasis and concern.

 

As President of the Foundation, Tim Wirth served in 2009 and 2010 on the UN Secretary-General’s Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change, which produced a report in 2010 calling on the UN system and its Member States to commit themselves to achieving two goals by 2030 – ensuring universal access to modern energy services and reducing global energy intensity by 40 per cent. In this work he was assisted by Mohamed El-Ashry and Melinda Kimble and the insights gained from the Foundation’s partnership with the Club of Madrid, Global Leadership for Climate Action. Over an eight-year period the Foundation worked intensively to integrate energy into the UN system’s economic and policy machinery, with the following results:

  • In December 2010, the UN General Assembly designated 2012 as the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.
  • In September 2011, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched a major new initiative called Sustainable Energy for All, with three development and climate objectives for 2030:
    • Ensure universal access to modern energy services.
    • Double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency.
    • Double the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.
  • In December 2012, the General Assembly declared 2014-2024 the UN Decade of Sustainable Energy for All.
  • In September 2015, the three objectives of Sustainable Energy for All were reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals, approved by the UN General Assembly, as Goal 7: “Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

Smoke from polluting and inefficient cooking, lighting, and heating devices prematurely kills some four million people a year, primarily women and young children, and causes a range of chronic illnesses and other health conditions. With the support of numerous partners and the leadership of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in September 2010 the Foundation launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, which seeks to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women, and combat climate change by creating a thriving global market for clean and efficient household cooking solutions.

  • The Alliance is on track to meet its goal of enabling 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020, toward a long-term vision of universal adoption of clean and efficient cooking solutions.

The Energy Future Coalition’s initial report also promoted innovative financial tools (called Global Development Bonds) to encourage a stronger flow of investment to developing countries. While the financial implosion in 2008 made such approaches temporarily infeasible, Mike Eckhart, who helped design that recommendation, subsequently played a major role in the explosive growth of “green bonds” as a way to mobilize risk-averse investment capital for clean energy projects globally – a market that has grown in the past three years to more than $40 billion annually.

In Conclusion

We can report substantial progress toward the “ambitious but achievable goals” identified in our 2003 report – “cutting U.S. oil consumption and carbon emissions each by a third from current levels over the next 25 years, and sharply increasing access to modern energy services in the developing world” – but we’re not there yet. In the past two years, the Coalition took on some new themes, assembling “strange bedfellows” to examine the opportunity for a carbon tax to unleash the power of markets to incentivize investments and underpin sustained economic productivity and growth. We also looked deeply at the effect of carbon pollution on ocean acidification, which led to the announcement of a new international alliance on the subject in September by the Pacific Coast Collaborative.

The Energy Future Coalition’s most significant success has been in its efforts to “change the conversation” in Washington – away from well-worn points of partisan conflict, toward bipartisan recognition of the economic opportunity presented by clean energy – a theme first articulated by Tim Wirth, Boyden Gray, and John Podesta in the summer of 2003 in “The Future of Energy Policy” in Foreign Affairs. This theme of opportunity similarly animated the recent progress on climate change in the Paris Agreement, made on the basis of voluntary national commitments to action, taken in countries’ own economic and societal self-interest. We also advanced this argument in our 2011 progress report, “Change the Rules, Hurry the Future: Challenges and Opportunities on the Path to a New Energy Future.

Looking back at the last 15 years, we cannot claim credit, of course, for the development of domestic gas and oil from shale, which has reduced U.S. dependence on foreign oil, or the dramatic improvements in the cost and performance of renewable energy technologies, or the remarkable innovation occurring as distributed tools from information and communications technologies begin to transform the energy industry in ways large and small. But the trends we identified and the actions we took helped move the world several steps toward a brighter future, with increased access to cheaper, cleaner energy sources empowering human potential around the world.