Interior Secretary: We Benefit From 'Federal Gov't Encouraging the Right Kinds of Behavior'

Susan Jones | August 14, 2013 | 11:13am EDT
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Interior Secretary nominee Sally Jewell testifies on Capitol Hill on March 7, 2013 (AP File Photo)

( - The "new energy future" will require the federal government to encourage "the right kinds of behavior," Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told a clean energy summit in Nevada on Tuesday.

"When you are getting into a new energy future, you really benefit from having the support of states -- and the federal government encouraging the right kinds of behavior and encouraging those incentives (for solar panel installation), she said.

Jewell mentioned the "right" kind of behavior twice in her speech, without specifically saying what it means. But she did give some hints.

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In the first reference, Jewell was discussing the various ways that REI reduced its carbon footprint when she chaired the company. She said REI's carbon-reduction efforts began as "random acts of kindness -- things like encouraging people, including employees, to ride bikes to work; using green energy where we could, recycling and those things...."

Jewell's second reference to the “right” kind of behavior came at the end of her speech:

"If we're going to address climate change, we need to pull together as leaders to make it happen -- leaders in business, leaders in utilities, leaders in states, leaders in private industry, leaders in government, and leaders as individuals. We need to wake up and look at the landscapes and admit what's happening around us. We need to ask ourselves, how can we be part of the solution? How can we provide incentives to reward and incent the right behavior? How can we hold each other accountable?"

Jewell admitted that REI's efforts to install solar panels at a number of stores was a costly venture at first.

"But we did go to states that gave us an incentive to do that," Jewell said. "California and Oregon come to mind, places that dominate in terms of where the onsite solar is, but also federal programs that made it affordable for us to go early on into onsite solar."

Over an eight-year period, REI saw a reduction in the cost and an increase in efficiency of solar panels. But to begin with, she said, the internal rate of return for REI's 11 solar-panel projects was only 1-and-a-half percent over ten years -- "not something you generally sign up for  unless you are really committed to reducing your carbon footprint."

A main topic of Jewell's speech was expanding renewable energy on federal lands at the "landscape level." That means balancing conservation with development.

"Our nation's public lands are vast and varied," Jewell said. "We need to take a close look at these resources to determine where it makes sense to develop renewable energy -- and just as importantly, where it does not."

As part of President Obama's Climate Action Plan to reduce carbon pollution, the Interior Department is working to approve 20,000 megawatts of renewable energy production on public lands by 2020.

‘Wind turbines that detect birds’

In discussing the expansion of wind energy along the Atlantic coast, Jewell gave a nod to conservationists who are concerned about windmills killing birds. She said research may hold the answer:

"So we can't reach the president's energy goals on good intentions. You know that," she said. "We need to support research into innovative technologies."

Among other things, Jewell mentioned "wind turbines that detect birds that are in the area so they can shut down as needed."

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