Three questions with the California Energy Commission
Clean Energy States Alliance Research Associate Sam Schacht spoke with three senior members of the California Energy Commission (CEC)—International Relations Senior Advisor Alana Sanchez, Chief of Staff for CEC Chair David Hochschild Katerina Robinson, and Director for Siting, Transmission, and Environmental Protection Division Elizabeth Huber—about how California has worked with international and sub-national partners to advance the clean energy transition and offshore wind specifically. The CEC’s international visitor program began more than 30 years ago, and it’s one of the state’s oldest international programs. In 2019, before the COVID-19 Pandemic, the CEC welcomed 71 delegations from five continents that were visiting to learn about their policies, programs, and services.
Sam: What is the role and benefit of international cooperation in state level energy policy, and how does that collaboration come about?
Katerina: California is the fifth largest economy in the world, which basically makes us a country. We feel it’s important to have these types of negotiations, discussions, and open pathways of communication with other countries. Governor Newsom has been bold in climate action and has prioritized building relationships with other countries. We’ve known for many years that our climate action alone does not save the climate. It’s going to be California’s actions, learning, and spurring of the green economy that is then exported to other countries that will have the greatest impacts on stopping and reversing climate change at scale. In addition, we have a lot to learn from other countries that are doing their own clean energy development and technological innovation. This sharing of knowledge and technological skills across nations can help reduce the cost for all of fighting climate change.
Alana: We have what’s called the International Climate Action Team (ICAT), and we work across different agencies, boards, and commissions to ensure that we’re coordinated and unified in our approach to international engagement. The Governor and Lt. Governor lead a lot of the engagement. Sometimes we’ll get interest from a country specifically for the energy commission, which we flag for the international inter-agency team and our leadership to see if there is interest in expanding cooperation, so we can have a memorandum of understanding (MoU). These MoUs address energy issues, but often also address climate issues and trade issues more broadly.
Sam: California has an MoU with Scotland and Denmark that specifically mention offshore wind. What are some ways in which those nations informed California’s approach to offshore wind, and what are some ways that California has influenced their approach?
Elizabeth: These MoUs establish a framework between our countries to promote sharing knowledge, experiences, data, and best practices relative to offshore wind energy and decarbonization of the residential development, industrial agricultural, and building sectors. Denmark and Scotland are further along on offshore wind than we are—it’s the one sector that we aren’t leading. Hopefully, we’ll lead in the future. To date, many nations have offshore wind energy projects using fixed-bottom foundations, which are more suitable for shallow waters of 60 meters (about 200 feet) or less. The deep waters of the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf off California’s coast have steep drop-offs requiring California to install offshore wind turbines using floating platforms anchored to the seabed, like the 88 MW of floating offshore wind energy turbines installed in Norway. Through these agreements, we try to learn lessons and best practices that we can implement as well as share the information with other countries. These MoUs have helped move our work forward with federal agency partners, and our state-wide program strategic planning. They have also helped us mentor other countries. For instance, at COP 27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, we met with states in Australia. For example, the coastline off of New South Wales is similar to California’s, and they wanted to learn about our work on floating wind technologies and planning goals. We’re learning from some of our European partners, and then we’re able to take that and share it with other countries and states within our sub-national partnerships. It’s circular knowledge sharing around the world.
Katerina: We also hope that this collaboration will reduce costs for the California rate payers. By learning from others, we’ll reduce costs by not reinventing the wheel. The more we can learn together and have a globalized economy and supply chains around new clean technologies, the less expensive it’ll be for all of us. And as we develop our own domestic supply chains, we can start out by importing and then begin building some things ourselves, learn from others’ mistakes, and save money.
Sam: How do you see this cooperation playing out in the future? Are there any future avenues for collaboration?
Katerina: We’re starting to work more with our neighbors, and often that work is stimulated by our international partners. For example, we meet with Denmark monthly on a couple different areas of focus. During the pandemic we met with them twice a month, which helped to build our relationship. They’re doing work in Mexico, and we’re also doing work in Mexico. If we can work beyond bilateral, if we can work on trilateral or multilateral engagement, I think that’s a win. Another example of that is that the Chair of the CEC, David Hochschild, was recently overseas in Japan. Through some of our Danish and Japanese contacts, we visited Norway in May for Floating Days, a floating offshore wind conference.
Alana: Denmark has been a very strong partner with us as we look into Power-to-X. That’s an area that we’re a little further behind. Last September, Denmark helped host a European offshore wind study tour for about 20-plus delegates from California. That allowed our inter-agency team—folks from California Coastal Commission, Land Commission, etc.—to go and see offshore wind at scale including some floating wind in Scotland. Denmark really rolled out the red carpet for our team, and we got to see critical things, like the Port of Esbjerg, and ask them a lot of questions.
Katerina: Another critical aspect of our intergovernmental collaboration is working very closely with California Native American Tribes. There are approximately 110 federally recognized tribes in California, the most tribes in any state. They have been stewards of the land and were able to thrive for thousands of years. Tribes often provide critical services to their local communities. They have deep local and traditional knowledge that we’re learning from to help us to develop new clean technologies in a way that does not repeat the mistakes of the past in the energy sector. We take those bilateral negotiations very seriously. Earlier this year, all five commissioners of both the Public Utility Commission and the Energy Commission in Humboldt met with tribal leaders throughout the state to discuss advancing clean energy in partnership with tribes.
This blog post was originally published in Windpower Engineering & Development.