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by Julia Pyper

Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich is the son of a utility lineman, and one of just a few engineers in Congress. 

Clean energy piqued the New Mexico lawmaker’s interest at an early age, while he was building and racing solar-powered cars in college. But for most of his life, he says, it was hard to imagine a world in which renewables could power more than 20 or 30 percent of the electric grid. 

Today, Heinrich’s outlook is different. “We can have a future reliable, cheap, resilient grid that is 100 percent powered by clean energy,” he said in an interview on Greentech Media’s Political Climate podcast.

Transforming the grid comes with technical challenges, Heinrich added. “But given how much things have changed over the last 30 years, I have no doubt 30 years from now we will be looking at those challenges in a very different way.” 

As for how long it will take to achieve 100 percent clean energy: “I think in my lifetime that is completely doable,” he said. 

Today marks the official launch of Sen. Heinrich’s “Clean Energy Vision,” as part of his re-election campaign for this fall. The ad and supporting document outline a multi-pronged approach for strengthening New Mexico's clean energy economy — including investments in energy storage, wind and solar, transmission lines and workforce development. The plan doesn’t explicitly call for a 100 percent clean energy grid, but Heinrich said it's a valuable concept for people to rally around.

Senator Heinrich laid out his Clean Energy Vision on Political Climate, and outlined how he intends to make that vision a reality in these highly partisan times. Listen to the full conversation below, or via Apple Podcasts, Google Play, TuneIn, Overcast, Stitcher or Spotify.

“Renewables, storage and smart and resilient grids are key to clean energy future, so Senator Heinrich’s focus here is right on,” former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz wrote of Heinrich’s clean energy vision in an email. “Furthermore, New Mexico, with its premier DOE labs Los Alamos and Sandia, will especially benefit from more effective technology transfer and regional innovation strategies.”

Moniz, who toured New Mexico with Heinrich last week, praised the senator for his in-depth understanding of clean energy technology that has “underpinned his leadership on these issues.”

Brandon Hurlbut, Political Climate co-host and former chief of staff at the Department of Energy under President Obama, said that Heinrich’s comments on 100 percent clean energy are significant.

“Senator Heinrich's announcement that he supports 100 percent clean energy is a big deal, because it shows that the 100 percent movement is becoming mainstream,” said Hurlbut. As a senator from a purple state, “It shows that support is expanding beyond liberal policymakers on the East and West Coasts.” 

More than 200 mayors across the country have publicly committed to achieving 100 percent clean energy, and a small but growing number of states are considering the same target. California lawmakers could pass a 100 percent zero-carbon electricity bill by the end of the month. 

Five years ago, when Hurlbut started working with the Solutions Project, an organization that advocates for a 100 percent renewable energy system, he recalls that the mention of “100 percent” was a “radical idea.” Since then, technology costs have dropped precipitously, making 100 percent renewables a possibility.

Powering the electric grid solely with renewables is not the same as powering the electric grid solely with clean energy. The latter implies a broader suite of low-carbon energy resources, most notably nuclear power, are also included in the mix. While there’s an ongoing debate over which approach is more technically feasible, Hurlbut said he’s excited to see that momentum is building around the 100 percent movement.

“This is the direction that the nation needs to go in if we are to avoid the worst effects of climate change and unlock a multitrillion-dollar economic opportunity for the country,” he said.

Senator Heinrich’s clean energy vision comes as the Trump administration rolls out its proposal to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan. The new Affordable Clean Energy Rule eases regulations on coal plants by allowing states to come up with their own emissions-reduction pathways, with no minimum reduction requirement.  

Senator Heinrich, along with Senators Markey, Carper, Whitehouse, Cardin and Smith, held a press conference today condemning the Trump administration proposal, citing potential damage to the environment, public health, and climate change progress. 

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