LAS VEGAS — The theme of Tuesday’s National Clean Energy Summit, hosted by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, was “the power of choice.”
Nevertheless, most of the speakers indicated they want politicians and government — not the choices of American consumers — to determine the country’s energy future.
“All forms of government, from federal down to the state, need to be aligned if we’re going to be successful in building a green economy,” asserted Reid during the conference.
Held at the Bellagio Resort and Casino, the fifth annual summit featured a keynote address by former president Bill Clinton and several panel discussions facilitated by lawmakers and leaders in the renewable-energy industry.
Most speakers, beginning with Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, ignored the private sector’s role in clean-energy development and instead celebrated the government’s role.
“The [Obama] administration has fast-tracked dozens of renewable-energy projects to make sure we fulfill an all-of-the-above energy policy,” boasted Salazar.
Although he touted the Obama administration’s “all of the above” energy policy, the secretary declined to mention the administration’s blocking of the Keystone XL pipeline and the 800,000-plus barrels of Canadian synthetic oil it would bring U.S. refineries each day.
Nor did Salazar address his own department’s resistance to offshore Arctic drilling, or administration signals of hostility toward the shale-gas fracking technology already producing over a third of American natural gas and bringing prosperity in its wake.
Reid and Salazar did, in the opening press conference, announce the opening of a new wind farm in White Pine County. Spring Valley Wind was privately funded, according to a spokesman for Pattern Energy, the plant’s parent company, although it received expedited permitting from the Bureau of Land Management, part of Salazar’s Interior department.
Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, a wind-energy lobbyist organization, called on Congress to continue supporting wind-energy Production Tax Credits that have been in federal law since 1992.
“These truly are the best of times and could be the worst of times for American wind power,” said Bode. “Congress must act now to give wind energy a stable business environment to keep producing all this homegrown power, and save 37,000 American jobs by the first quarter of next year.”
Several other presenters, including Kevin Smith, CEO of Solar Reserve, and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, echoed Bode’s calls for more wind tax credits and said renewable energy should receive the same amount of subsidies as oil and nuclear energy.
“I don’t see why solar and wind subsidies can’t be in line with coal and oil [subsidies],” said Musk, whose electric-car company has received at least $465 million in federal loans from the Obama administration and has yet to show a profit.
“Unless we solve the sustainable-energy problem this century, we’ll face [a] massive economic collapse,” he predicted.
No presenters at the event suggested a level playing field where no industries received government subsidies.
On the “choice” front, even during a panel titled “Empowering Consumers with more and better Energy Choices,” panelist Peter Fox-Penner argued against allowing consumers to make their own energy choices in free and competitive markets.
Fox-Penner, a former Clinton administration official and chairman of the Brattle Group, a Massachusetts-based consulting firm, said the U.S. needs a federally mandated “universal” climate policy in order to increase funding and consumption of renewable energy.
“[The U.S. needs] a climate policy, and it needs to be encompassing,” he said.
Reid spent part of the summit criticizing NV Energy for not closing the Reid Gardner (no relation) coal-fueled power plant in Moapa. Reid met with members of the local Paiute tribe who claimed the plant caused health problems in their community. He suggested the plant be replaced by a solar plant.
“They [at NV Energy] know I’m not happy about it,” Reid said. “It’s unfortunate that NV Energy goes after the cheapest source of power and isn’t supporting [the Paiutes’] solar plan.”
Reid didn’t say how many jobs would be lost if NV Energy closed the plant, but he has a history of stalling coal plant construction. From 2006 through 2009, he fought the utility’s plan to construct a coal plant in Ely and eventually killed it and the 200 permanent jobs it would have created.
Former president Clinton, a keynoter for the conference, said the U.S needs to “be prepared to pay the price of time” and that the U.S is lagging behind European countries like Germany and Denmark that have imposed national renewable portfolio standards.
“Imposing national clean-energy standards hasn’t hurt them yet,” asserted Clinton, “and it won’t hurt us.” He did not address the recent wave of bankruptcies in Germany’s solar industry. Nor did he acknowledge the dramatic halt by financially struggling Spain this year of that country’s previous subsidies for renewable energy.
Hyping European renewable-energy models, Clinton claimed Germany made a “smart investment” by investing in solar energy even though Germany, he noted, has fewer days of sunshine per year than any U.S state except Alaska.
“[Germans] made that investment, and it paid off,” Clinton said. “There’s no reason [the U.S] shouldn’t be able to make that same investment.”
The German news magazine Der Spiegel, however, attributes the country’s large “investment” in solar not to wisdom but to the political clout of that industry’s lobby:
Solar subsidies cost German consumers billions of dollars a year and are widely regarded as inefficient. Even environmentalists are concerned that Berlin's focus on solar comes at the detriment of other renewables. But the solar industry has a powerful lobby, and politicians have proven powerless to resist.
Clinton also repeated the common allegation that if every state had a renewable-energy standard it would “put a lot of people back to work.”
Ironically, he made the claim the same day a Nevada Journal investigation revealed that over $1.3 billion in federal handouts to geothermal, wind and solar plants in Nevada has led to just 288 permanent, full-time jobs. That’s an initial cost of more than $4.6 million per job.
Clinton concluded with a question-and-answer session with John Podesta, once called by the Washington Post Clinton’s Mr. Fix-It. Podesta is also the founder of the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank that co-sponsored the summit.
Even during the Q & A session, the former president continued emphasizing the common refrain of conference presenters: that the U.S government must continue subsidizing renewables.
“We have to go to the mattresses on this issue,” Clinton said, adopting a phrase from the organized-crime epic “The Godfather.” “We can’t afford to let any of the subsidies expire.”
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