Yesterday morning’s keynote address at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum was delivered by Pennsylvania’s ex-governor Ed Rendell, who spoke on the possibilities that renewable energy may gain traction through politics. I suppose anything’s possible, so I tried to track with every word – and I’m glad I did.
Rendell began by pointing to a few points of concern to all of us:
1) The US is clearly and rapidly falling behind in the arena of innovation generally and in energy particularly. In 2009, for the first time ever, the US Patent Office granted a majority of its overall patents to foreign nations/companies. And nowhere is America losing faster and more obviously than energy.
2) Those of us who believe that the world is headed in an unsustainable direction are running out of time. China will import 80% more coal this year than last, and they’re building one new coal plant per week.
3) By far, the most important energy topic discussed in Congress is light bulbs, gaining far more minutes on The Floor than the runner up issues (subsidies for oil, and energy as a national security concern). Apparently, our leaders are deadlocked on the decision to ensure that incandescent bulbs are not removed from US commerce – and neither side is blinking. Rendell paused for a moment, then asked, “Do Republicans have a huge store of old light bulbs that they wish to sell into the market? They threatened to withhold their votes to elect Fred Upton (R- MI) chairman of the energy subcommittee unless he toed the line on this issue – to which he finally acceded. The Republicans appear to be on an all-out crusade here. Regardless, we’re diddling around while the rest of the world is kicking our butts.”
But Rendell is on a crusade of his own – this one to see a renewable portfolio standard (i.e., a mandate to get to a certain minimum mix of clean energy) at the federal level. “Through years of experience at the state level, we’ve proven that clean energy mandates create payoffs in terms of a large number of good, well-paying jobs. We need a stable policy to support this at the national level – and it has to be permanent; it can’t flip-flop every four years.
So why, precisely, is this not happening? According to Rendell: “There are too many special interests arrayed against it. Over 90% of Democrat voters are in favor of Congress passing legislation that prioritizes clean energy. In fact, over 75% of Republican voters are in favor of the exact same thing. Clearly, the will of the American people is being frustrated by special interests.”
He told a story (perhaps self-serving, since he was the hero – but hey, isn’t that what politicians do?), in which he pointed out that when he was governor, Pennsylvania was one of only nine states that had no investment in pre-K education. “Harrisburg was dominated by lobbyists, and the poor kids — who would benefit most from this — had none. So I said: ‘I’m going to take this one on myself.’ Well, we won that fight, and now our young kids rank number one in reading.”
“Together, we can do this,” Rendell fairly bellowed in summary. “But we can’t do it inside the Beltway. The lobbyists are raising campaign money for our senators and representatives in Washington seven days a week. It never stops. It never stops. There are fund-raisers happening literally every night. If change is going to happen, it needs to take place in hometown America. Your leaders have to hear it from you.”
I don’t consider myself a sucker for political rhetoric, but I have to say that there was a level of gusto in my applause as Rendell left the stage.