Marin County, CA—Thomas Van Dyck, the founder of shareholder advocacy group As You Sow, has been a leader in the field of socially responsible investment for more than 30 years. At a recent Bioneers Conference appearance in Marin County, CA, Van Dyck offered thoughts on how to speed up the clean energy transition.
Now a financial advisor for RBC Wealth Management where he advises on more than $2 billion in environmentally sustainable investments, Van Dyck shared insights that were also drawn from more than four years of work with the Divest/Invest movement. The organization urges investors to “join the global investor movement accelerating the sustainable energy transition” by divesting their fossil fuel assets.
“California has actually been able to grow our economy on a per capita basis without increasing per capita energy demand,” he said. Because Republicans own the carbon, according to Van Dyck, “they want you to keep burning it, okay? You don’t need to do that.”
Van Dyck displayed a graph showing that while the state’s GDP has been growing at over two percent annually between 2000 and 2015, its greenhouse gas emissions per capita have fallen while its total emissions declined about six percent. Thus, California produces only half the greenhouse gases per dollar of GDP as the national average, Van Dyck noted.
“So the whole idea that you’re not growing your economy under cleaner renewable energy—where you’re not off-gassing health problems to low-wealth communities and killing them with asthma—is once again false,” he said.
In California, about 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are generated by transportation, Van Dyck pointed out. “So if everybody here—and all our friends and neighbors—goes out and makes their next purchase an electric car, we can literally put a stake in the heart of the fossil fuel industry by decoupling our addiction to oil and moving to renewable energy to power that car.”
“The car is basically a mobile computer,” Van Dyck added. “So that innovation could catalyze very quickly.” He pointed to Proterra, a large bus manufacturer in Torrance, CA that now markets an electric bus that he said can go 1,000 miles on a charge.
“So now you have these buses that are no longer range-bound. ... We should not be buying another diesel bus in San Francisco, in LA, in Sacramento or anywhere,” he asserted.
A Stealth Strategy
Van Dyck then offered his audience, which included many social change activists and young people, a “fly beneath the radar” strategy for boosting clean energy jobs and renewable energy adoption.
“Solar energy jobs are everywhere if you choose to use them,” Van Dyck said. “California has benefited because we’ve embraced it. A hundred thousand jobs.”
“These jobs could be all across the United States if local public utility commissions (PUCs) choose to pass renewable portfolio standards that mandate 100 percent renewable power,” he said.
“Once again that means your involvement,” Van Dyck said. “That means everybody here’s involvement to take over the PUC before the Koch brothers find out that that’s their Achilles’ heel.
“If we can take control of that,” he proposed, “we can dictate where the renewable energy needs to be done, we can drive that change through a local democratic process. We don’t need Washington.
Storing Renewable Power
Referring to affordable electricity storage as the “Holy Grail” of clean energy deployment, Van Dyck predicted that if its cost “gets below $200 dollars per kilowatt hour, then we can produce solar and wind and other sorts of renewables and deliver it at when the sun is not shining and the wind is not blowing.”
He foresees further steep imminent declines in energy storage costs. “When Elon [Musk] finishes that Giga plant in Nevada [where Tesla plans to produce vast numbers of EV batteries], the cost will be about $180 a kilowatt-hour. When the Chinese and the Koreans finish their plant, it’s going to be closer to $100 a kilowatt-hour. The lower it goes, the more affordable renewables become and that’s all externalities included,” he added.
“Don’t be fooled when they say, ‘Wait a minute, your solar is at six cents a kilowatt hour. Coal is at four cents a kilowatt-hour,’” he explained. “Coal is not at four cents a kilowatt hour. That’s not including any of the externalities associated with health care, mountaintop removal, miners’ [illnesses and injuries]—none of that.”
“Game Over” for Fossil Fuels
“If you want to know what the true cost of coal is, the As You Sow Foundation did a study about five years ago. We determined it to be closer to 24 cents a kilowatt-hour if you take all the externalities that fly off the [coal company and the utilities] balance sheets to land on taxpayers’. We’re picking up the tab for those externalities that come off the balance sheets of these coal plants, he noted.
“That is not a free market. Free markets are against subsidies, right? Pollution is a subsidy that needs to be included in the cost of power, because cost-price integration is the way of the future. That means the true cost borne by that product stays on the balance sheets of those companies,” Van Dyck concluded.
“It [shouldn’t] fly off the balance sheets and land on our balance sheets because we’re subsidizing it, right? We want true cost-price integration. We want pollution to be viewed as a subsidy.”
If all fossil fuel subsidies are eliminated and renewables were allowed to fight the fossil fuel industry on a level playing field, Van Dyck asserted, “it will be game over for the fossil fuel industry.”
The opinions expressed here are those of the participants and do not necessarily reflect those of RBC Wealth Management.
The 28th annual Bioneers Conference where Van Dyck spoke took place October 19th -22nd at the Marin County Civic Center and drew upwards of 3,000 participants. Van Dyck was part of an October 22 session titled, “Changing the Landscape of Power: Clean Energy and Democracy.
John J. Berger, PhD. (www.johnjberger.com) is an energy and environmental policy specialist who has produced ten books on climate, energy, and natural resource topics. He is the author of Climate Peril: The Intelligent Reader’s Guide to the Climate Crisis, and Climate Myths: The Campaign Against Climate Science, and is at work on a new book about climate solutions.
Follow John J. Berger on Twitter: www.twitter.com/johnjberger