In last week’s State of the Union address, Obama challenged America to embrace a "Sputnik Moment":
So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.
Today, speaking in State College, PA, Barack Obama is scheduled to make a speech on committing to new programs for energy efficient buildings.
According to Reuters:
As part of that program, Obama will announce a plan to improve energy efficiency in U.S. commercial buildings by offering businesses incentives to help pay for clean energy upgrades of offices, stores and other buildings.
According to the White House, the "Better Buildings Initiative" will:
achieve a 20 percent improvement in energy efficiency by 2020, reduce companies’ and business owners’ energy bills by about $40 billion per year and save energy.
Most significantly, the Obama administration announced that the cost of the program would be "paid for by ending tax subsidies for oil, natural gas and other fossil fuels."
Obama faces many challenges in the process. At a recent American Council On Renewable Energy event on the new political climate in Washington, all of the speakers expressed skepticism that real energy policy moves could be made in 2010. The Republican party does not want to be perceived to approve of any discretionary spending. The fossil fuel lobby is very strong and the breaks and incentives for fossil fuels very well entrenched. Finally, states with nonrenewable resources like coal, natural gas and petroleum are loathe to threaten these high value industries, particularly in lean economic times.
Obama and the Democrats have a few unique elements which could turn into a "perfect storm" for renewable energy policy:
- Public interest studies have demonstrated that Americans currently have a positive image of solar and other renewables.
- The Gulf Oil Spill is still relatively fresh in the public’s mind.
- The turmoil in the Middle East is increasing by the day.
- There were record weather patterns again this winter.
- The ARRA demonstrated the capacity of public investment to grow green jobs.
If these components can be honed into a clear, coherent connection to the value of investment in renewable energy, then it may be possible to achieve a major step forward in energy policy.
One small step for Obama, one giant step for mankind.