Jamie Redford at Shiloh Wind Power Plant near Bird's Landing, CA / Courtesy of HBO
"Happening: A Clean Energy Revolution"
Premieres Monday, December 11 at 8 PM ET/PT on HBO
“Can we make enough renewable energy to supply the world and replace fossil fuels? How will we do that, and will we do that?” asks filmmaker Jamie Redford. To find the answers, he embarks on a surprising journey across the U.S. to meet entrepreneurs, community activists and ordinary citizens who are pioneering the use of clean energy technology, often in the most unlikely places, in the process creating jobs, turning profits and making Americans’ lives healthier. This uplifting documentary brings a personal point of view to a complex, polarizing issue.
Highlighting innovators and entrepreneurs in communities from Georgetown, Tex. to Buffalo, NY, HAPPENING: A CLEAN ENERGY REVOLUTION follows Jamie Redford – grandson of a longtime Chevron worker and son of actor/environmental advocate Robert Redford – on an enlightening cross-country journey to discover the current state of clean energy and see what lies on the horizon. The film reveals pioneering renewable-energy solutions that are making the potential future brighter than ever before, while underscoring notions of human resilience and social justice.
Providing real, comprehensible answers to complex energy questions facing America and the world, the documentary looks at politicians, executives and activists banding together to reduce the country’s reliance on fossil fuels. Highlighted by humor, compelling characters and insights into incredible technological innovations, HAPPENING: A CLEAN ENERGY REVOLUTION spotlights a revolution that is democratic, resilient and sustainable, despite considerable headwinds and lack of action from the federal government.
To get a better idea of how energy production works, Redford tracks his own power lines to a “suitably depressing” power plant across the bay from a field of energy-producing windmills. Inspired, he visits the world’s largest commercial solar-thermal facility – the Ivanpah Solar Power Facility in Nipton, Cal. – where he learns that, despite the intermittency of renewables, solar-thermal “can deliver energy on demand,” according to BrightSource Energy CEO Dave Ramm, and is a viable alternative to defending foreign oil interests with troops and government funding.
Jamie Redford at Ivanpah solar Power Facility in Nipton, CA / Courtesy of HBO
“Energy [is] becoming a national security priority,” says former U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, whose mandate was to control energy costs and eliminate generators, which emit noise that makes troops vulnerable, among other detriments. “The Department of Defense is the largest single user of fossil fuels in the world,” he adds, noting that the Navy and Marine Corps are responsible for about 40% of total fossil-fuel consumption. But, he continues, “By no later than 2020, at least half of all our energy, afloat and ashore, will come from non-fossil fuel sources.”
Dale Ross, the conservative mayor of Georgetown, Tex., also maintains that clean energy is cost-effective, and goes beyond partisan politics. Offered a lucrative long-term deal by wind and solar companies, Georgetown became the second U.S. city to run on 100% renewable energy. Soon, solar energy will be as affordable as, or more affordable than, fossil fuels in 47 states, according to Emily Kirsch, a CEO who funds solar startups. Kirsch stresses that the clean energy industry can “democratize energy production and consumption,” and already employs more people than Google, Apple, Facebook and Twitter combined.
Cities like Buffalo, NY, a former manufacturing hub, are being revitalized by the clean energy revolution. There, Redford visits the site of the largest solar panel manufacturing plant in the western world, which will employ more people than the former steel plants that once sustained the community. The city is also making green infrastructure a part of its revitalization. Redford meets with members of PUSH Buffalo, a non-profit organization using local labor to retrofit affordable housing units to make them energy-independent.
Jamie Redford with members of PUSH Buffalo community garden / Courtesy of HBO
Even big business recognizes the benefits: All of Apple’s U.S. facilities are now 100% renewable-powered. During a visit to an Apple data center, Redford learns that the company built its own solar farm in order to control its energy source. Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, points to a new generation’s willingness to embrace renewables, despite the lack of government support. “I feel like it’s just happening,” she says. Redford is excited to lease solar panels for his own home, a cost-saving alternative to buying, but wonders about the challenges of nationwide adoption. With energy storage still expensive, non-profits and agencies like the California ISO, one of five U.S. entities created to make sure these grids run well 24/7, 365 days a year, will be instrumental in finding a long-term solution.
But what happens when residents invest in renewables, only to find themselves at a financial disadvantage? In Las Vegas, residents who adopted rooftop solar fought back against a vote to lower the rate at which they are reimbursed for the excess power their systems generate. Locals, along with actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, spoke out against the decision, but it remained – effectively freezing the rooftop solar industry in Nevada and prompting layoffs.
Eighteen months later, Redford is heartened to find the fight still going strong. A trio of pro-clean energy bills has made its way through the Nevada state senate and house, spurred by constituents’ passion for solar energy and the economic arguments supporting it. Their persistence leads to victory, and the governor signs one bill into law that reverses the earlier reimbursement decision. While he vetoes the two other bills, eight other clean energy bills were turned into law during the legislative session that rebooted the solar industry in Nevada overnight. Redford is encouraged. “This is the dawn of the clean energy era. It’s just better, cheaper, inevitable,” he says. When will renewable energy eclipse fossil-fuel consumption? “That’s entirely up to us.”