National Clean Energy Summit Calls For Government Action To Create Green Jobs

Dave Johnson

I am attending the National Clean Energy Summit 3.0: Investing in American Jobs conference in Last Vegas, hosted by Senator Harry Reid (who is spending the day here hosting this). The Summit is put on by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. This is a quick post, because I’m typing during the lunch break.

This morning’s panel, Connecting Capital with Ideas, included a number of business and investment leaders. Naturally, since they are here at the conference, they are going to be enthusiastic about clean energy, but over and over the leaders and investors repeated that green energy is the next big industry, and will be transformative on a scale at least that of the Internet. The problem for us is that other countries have a huge head start. We have let our own approach stagnate for decades while other countries have seen this as a major opportunity and have done what they need to do to stimulate domestic industries.

Senator Reid was literally begging the Senate to pass the energy bill that has been held up by filibuster, saying,
“This is the future of our recovery here and the world. [Venture Capitalist] John Doer told me government needs to set guidelines, so private industry can invest. … Trillions of private capital are sitting on sideline. We need to get the private sector involved in creating these industry jobs.”

Venture capitalist John Doerr (Compaq, Netscape, Amazon, Google, Genentech) said, “the numbers are compelling, The Internet is $1 trillion. Energy is $6 trillion, 4 or 5 times as large. Innovation in energy is a really big deal.”

Summarizing what Doerr said, from my notes:

30% of our country’s energy is from overseas. We ship about a billion dollars a day outside US for energy.

Of the top 10 alt energy companies in wind, solar, and geothermal, how many are from the US? Only 4 out of 30! In the worldwide race for leadership our country is barely in the race. China is now the world leader in solar, advanced batteries, a few years ago they had 2% of the market, now over 50%. We are behind.

Total amount the government spends on clean energy r&d is around $5B. Americans spend more on potato chips than we spend on clean energy r&d!

We must get our private markets incentivized. More money flows through private capital markets in a day than all governments in a year. To do this we MUST put a price on carbon, this is the most important thing we could do. That would be the signal to the markets that these are the investments that will be rewarded.

Next is government energy efficiency standards and incentives. The way to create jobs fast.
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In California the fastest growing part of economy is new green jobs. (California has a renewable energy standard and is implementing cap-and-trade.) 12,000 new clean energy companies just in CA. The payoff is all around country. If we fail, we put planet in jepordy but also the future of American economy. Green tech is the next great global industry.

Quickly summarizing the rest of the speakers, there was consensus that we need to put a price on carbon. This can be done with a carbon tax or cap-and-trade. It takes government to set standards and guidelines before investors will feel that there is a sustainable market. Government rules create certainty, and this lowers the risk for investors.

Government has to create “home demand” as other countries have done. Other countries have set a price on carbon and have set renewable energy standards, and this has created in-country demand so clean-tech industries can grow up and then go out to compete in world markets.

Over and over again this was stressed. At a minimum, we as a country absolutely need a Renewable Energy Standard (also called Renewable Portfolio Standard), requiring that some percentage of the electricity produced in the US be from non-carbon sources, and then a US clean-tech industry will thrive.

This is a quick summary, stressing that we need that government policy that is being blocked in the Senate, to trigger investment that will begin to create a clean energy industry here — and all of the jobs that brings with it. While we hesitate and allow our legislation to be blocked by representatives of Big Oil and Big Coal, other countries are taking the industries of the future away from us.

OK back for the afternoon sessions.

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