How the Grinch stole clean energy … and then gave it back

Source: By Mark Dyson, Rocky Mountain Institute • Posted: Thursday, December 19, 2019

How the Grinch stole clean energy … and then gave it back

By Mark Dyson, Rocky Mountain Institute

A long time ago (and, in places, still now),

A grumpy old Grinch hadn’t figured out how

To meet all the Whos’ clean power desires,

Instead of just lighting old carbon on fire.

So this is a tale of the Grinch’s transition,

And the power to change once he stopped to listen…



Every Who down in Whoville liked clean energy, lots

But the old Grinch who sold them their power did NOT

The Grinch hated green stuff; he preferred burning

Fossilized carbon to keep turbines turning


Maybe, he thought it would be too expensive.

Or maybe, it was to his coal too offensive.

(Or the most likely reason, I have been told,

Is IRP software two decades too old.)

But for whatever reason, he thought it’d hurt profits,

And leave his investors with sad empty pockets.


So he scowled as customers rushed to invest

In resources that could serve their needs the best

They bought high SEER AC’s, and rooftop PV’s

Thick wall insulation, efficient TVs

(And don’t get the Grinch started on new LEDs:

Flattening load growth, his earnings they squeezed)


The Grinch watched this happen, and got a bit scared

That his old business model might need some repair.

So he stewed and he schemed on ways he could stall

The march of clean energy once and for all.


The Grinch chose a technical case, to begin,

By arguing things ‘intermittent’ can’t win.

“Sometimes the wind stops!” the Grinch did opine,

“And what use is PV when the sun doesn’t shine?”


The Grinch set his sights next on dollars and cents,

Claiming that costs are too high to commence

Investment at scale or transition so bold.

(It was too bad he used prices three years too old)


The Grinch kept on planning, the same way as ever,

And thought himself so very shrewd, and quite clever.

He counted on load growth for ever and on.

(Of course now we know he was actually quite wrong)


So the Grinch took these arguments, noted and filed.

His models and comments exquisitely dialed.

“I’ll state, with regrets, that clean energy’s hard,

and that way avoid a debt rating marred.”


And it all went his way, for a decade or two

But soon he discovered, you can’t trick a Who…


See, the Grinch wasn’t alone in doing research

On the changes on which his industry perched

And soon the Who stakeholders came to the fore

They came to the Grinch, and they knocked on his door.


First came Banker Whos, those hard-nose-ed sorts

“Mr. Grinch, we’ve been reading your fiscal reports.

What we see isn’t great, in fact it’s quite scary.

Your business model may soon get quite hairy.

You’re badly exposed to the risk of disruption

Based on your penchant for fossil combustion.”


Then came the Lawmaker Whos, one by one:

“Our clean power policy, can you get it done?

Or are you too stuck in your old debt outstanding?

How can you ensure our Whos a soft landing?”


Large Customer Whos then flew in on their jets:

“We pay you a lot, please don’t you forget-

Your Grinchy returns are based on our work

But we have been reading the headlines, you jerk

New green is much cheaper than old brown from you,

So give us a good deal, or else we are through.”


Community Voice Whos then made their case:

“Your performance to date hasn’t been in great taste.

Clean energy plans can’t just be a sequel

To historical actions that’ve been so unequal.

Next steps must support local health and employment;

This transition’s not just for shareholder enjoyment.”


Lastly, the Climate Whos came to the front:

“Listen up, Grinch, and I must here be blunt:

Things aren’t going well, and it’s partly on you

For burning and burning all day and night through.

We’ve got maybe ten years to figure this out,

but we must start now, of that there’s no doubt.”


The Grinch listened, silent, as Whos made their cases.

He looked to and fro between their stony faces.

He didn’t have answers in his Grinchy head,

But then a small Who cleared her throat, and she said:


“Now Mr. Grinch, don’t lose heart; don’t you see?

This transition creates opportunity

For us to convene and align your incentives

With those of our planet and all our descendants.”


The Grinch began nodding, his mind quickly spinning.

“All this will take is a new way of winning.

New business models can be just as viable,

And I’ll keep the lights on; safe, cheap, and reliable!”


The Whos nodded too; they could get behind this.

“Let us know,” they all cried, “how we can assist!”

And it took most of Whoville to figure the plan

But by the end of the week, they had it in hand.


The Who that had spoken first laid out next steps-

She said, “Here’s a plan with the fewest regrets:

What we need to do first is reformulate profit

For you to help us make progress, not stop it.

Drink a big PBR, take a shot of tax credits;

now we can get to investment plan edits.


First step is to save all the Watts that we can,

(Negawatts are the best kind of Watts in the land)

Step two is to make demand follow supply

So pass through price signals, and watch loads reply.

Step three is add solar, storage, and wind

(Transmission can keep it from all getting pinned)

In step four we avoid a new rush to gas

(The time for new gas plants has more or less passed)

Step five sees us taking a hard look and shutting

Old power plants, spewing carbon worth cutting

(Step five will be tricky, we need to build trust,

And make the transition in a way that is just)”


The Grinch nodded slowly, pondering through it.

“Though this seems hard, I think Whoville can do it.

But where is the payback? Why should I try?”

The little Who smiled, and said “Well, here’s why…”


“It’s not nearly enough to decarbonize

Only your business; that’s not the whole prize.

In fact we must slash all emissions by half,

Our power grid’s merely one step on that path.

But there are rich prizes for those that can deal:

Because oil firms’ profits are ripe for the steal.

How can you cure falling load, make it larger?

Get Whos in EVs, and get them to a charger!

How can you grow sales out of their slumps?

Make the Whos happy with brand-new heat pumps!

If you do this right, Mr. Grinch, you will see

Your sales growth increase by a factor of three.

Your business can lead, not be stuck in the past,

And make our economy carbon-free, fast!”


So what happened then? Well, in Whoville, they say,

The speed of transition grew tenfold that day.

“Thank you!” the Grinch said, “thanks to the Whos!

Without your insights, I don’t know what I’d do.

Together we’ve worked hard, toiled, and planned,

And from now going forth, it’s clear where I stand.”


So he got right to work; the Grinch made great haste.

(After all, it is clear, there’s no time to waste)

PPAs signed, coal closing dates set –

The Grinch looking forward, without a regret.

He brought back the toys: LEDs and PVs,

He helped the Whos take their first drives in EVs.

And as his JD Power scores climbed for the win,

The Whos and the Grinch declared “Whoville’s still in!