Green Group Grows Emphasis on Clean Energy

MUENCHEBERG, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 04: A worker installs solar panels containing photovoltaic cells at the new Solarpark Eggersdorf solar park on September 4, 2012 near Muencheberg, Germany. The park, which is being built by German solar energy operator juwi Solar GmbH, will contain 85,000 solar modules and is one of many similar projects in eastern Germany. Germany is investing heavily in renewable energy projects, especially solar, wind and biogas ventures, as the country is in the ongoing process of closing down its nuclear energy plants. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
National Journal
Amy Harder
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Amy Harder
Jan. 24, 2014, 10:36 a.m.

A ma­jor en­vir­on­ment­al group known for its work with oil and nat­ur­al-gas com­pan­ies is re­doub­ling its ef­forts to en­cour­age more re­new­able en­ergy over all fossil fuels, in­clud­ing nat­ur­al gas.

Last sum­mer, the En­vir­on­ment­al De­fense Fund launched its Smart Power Ini­ti­at­ive, and since then the in­flu­en­tial New York-based group has been ramp­ing up its staff and fo­cus, with between 35 to 50 staff mem­bers de­voted to the ef­fort in­clud­ing 10 new em­ploy­ees.

“This is the biggest en­ergy ini­ti­at­ive we’ve ever launched,” EDF Pres­id­ent Fred Krupp said in a re­cent in­ter­view. “It is lar­ger than even our large ini­ti­at­ive on nat­ur­al gas.”

That ini­ti­at­ive on nat­ur­al gas Krupp ref­er­enced is well-known throughout the fossil-fuel in­dustry and en­vir­on­ment­al com­munity. EDF is the lead­ing en­vir­on­ment­al group that works col­lab­or­at­ively with oil and gas com­pan­ies to en­sure drilling is done safely and with as little en­vir­on­ment­al and cli­mate im­pact as pos­sible. Nat­ur­al gas burns with half the car­bon emis­sions of coal, so EDF and some oth­er en­vir­on­ment­al or­gan­iz­a­tions see it as the best of the fossil-fuel al­tern­at­ives. But Krupp said his group is start­ing to fo­cus more on get­ting the en­ergy in­dustry to shift from all fossil fuels to re­new­ables.

“There is an op­por­tun­ity to have nat­ur­al gas re­place more coal,” Krupp said. “But, the bot­tom line is we have to ac­cel­er­ate to clean, smart power as fast as pos­sible to avoid un­ne­ces­sary shifts to nat­ur­al gas, and that’s why EDF has launched this Smart Power pro­gram to work in the states.”

The ini­ti­at­ive greatly in­creases EDF’s fo­cus on re­new­able en­ergy. It has four pil­lars, ac­cord­ing to its web­site: elim­in­at­ing reg­u­lat­ory and mar­ket bar­ri­ers to zero-car­bon en­ergy, in­clud­ing re­new­ables and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency; pro­mot­ing a smart grid friend­li­er to green en­ergy; en­sur­ing nat­ur­al gas is “an ally of smart power”; and cre­at­ing pro­grams that at­tract in­vestors to re­new­able elec­tri­city and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency.

“This new, dy­nam­ic en­ergy ap­proach spurs eco­nom­ic growth, clean­er air, and a safer cli­mate,” said Cheryl Roberto, EDF’s as­so­ci­ate vice pres­id­ent of smart power, in a state­ment. “Our power grid hasn’t been up­dated since Thomas Edis­on in­ven­ted it over a cen­tury ago, and elec­tric util­it­ies are at a cross­roads. As they re­place old, dirty power plants, they can either build more of the same or turn to­ward clean, flex­ible, low-car­bon en­ergy.”

EDF has al­ways been con­sidered the most in­dustry-friendly en­vir­on­ment­al group, and while its work on that front con­tin­ues, this new ini­ti­at­ive sig­nals EDF’s think­ing on the shift to re­new­able en­ergy is be­com­ing more aligned with that of oth­er en­vir­on­ment­al groups that op­pose any shift at all to nat­ur­al gas, namely the Si­erra Club.

“It doesn’t sur­prise me that they’re put­ting more em­phas­is on clean en­ergy,” Si­erra Club Ex­ec­ut­ive Dir­ect­or Mi­chael Brune said. “Over the next two years, you’re go­ing to see every­body [in the en­vir­on­ment­al com­munity] do­ing that.”

Un­like Brune, Krupp re­ceives praise from oil and nat­ur­al gas lead­ers for his work with in­dustry.

“I’m not sur­prised or shocked that EDF would want to con­tin­ue to look at op­por­tun­it­ies in the re­new­able- and al­tern­at­ive-fuel space,” said Amer­ica’s Nat­ur­al Gas Al­li­ance Pres­id­ent and CEO Marty Durbin, not­ing that he had not heard of the new ini­ti­at­ive. “To me, the pos­it­ive thing is that they re­main a con­struct­ive voice on how to safely and re­spons­ibly pro­duce nat­ur­al gas in a way that helps im­prove the en­vir­on­ment.”

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