energy policy: Stay on Offense
By BRAD COLLINS
leading the renewable energy revolution
The recent federal commitment to RE/EE
deployment is a good start. Let’s get more.
My first lessons with the federal budgeting process occurred
after the notorious (and still secret) Cheney Energy Task
Force gave their direction for government energy spending. The Task Force report, released in May 2001, proposed massive
cuts in the renewable energy/energy-efficiency (RE/EE) budget
for the U.S. Department of Energy. Solar energy advocates reacted
with panic, followed by broad determination to resist the cuts. The
entire renewable energy community rallied its constituents to advocate
for a more realistic budget. Citations of the proven benefits of DOE
programs to advance renewables and efficiency programs were compiled and shared with congressional staffers and others who might in
some small way take our message forward. The message: These funds
are vital for our industry, our economy and, indeed, our planet. Please
don’t cut them.
This budget dance goes on all the time, interest groups doing do-si-dos with our elected representatives. What was different in 2001 was
the breadth and depth of the proposed cuts to longstanding, productive programs. The response
was a mighty effort to get the word out and battle for what the nation desperately needed. We
organized, we advocated, and we pleaded. Hundreds upon hundreds participated in meetings
throughout the country; mailings and phone calls flooded congressional offices; hundreds of
visits were made to plead with legislative aids, chiefs of staff and members of Congress. The
American Solar Energy Society (ASES), along with the renewable energy trade associations and
efficiency organizations, worked tirelessly to save the budget. The good news: We succeeded.
The bad news: All we achieved was the budget from the previous year — we made no budgetary progress for RE/EE research, development and deployment (RD&D). Our “victory” was a
return to the modest levels of the previous year.
We were motivated to pull out all the stops just to get even. That experience troubles me yet
today. Our proactive message should have been that Congress would be irresponsible to reduce
any budgets critical to our national interest, desired by the public and fundamental to our global
economic competitiveness. Instead we were caught off guard by an extractive industry gambit
and had to play defense with our backs to the end zone.
Today, we see the pendulum swinging in the other direction. Massive funding to stimulate
the U.S. economy (particularly the green economy) has been authorized. Additional monies will
surely be allocated by energy and climate legislation this session. We should stay on the offensive: We must be bold and strong enough to say, “Thank you, but even more is required.”
More federal support is not a selfish proposal. More is needed to meet the stark reality
of where we find ourselves today. ASES’ work in climate change and in growth of the green
economy shows a bright future if we can achieve an advanced deployment scenario — one
where the broad use of renewables and efficiency is a national mandate.
To get 50 percent of our energy from renewable sources by 2030, or to cut carbon by 80
percent, or to generate 37 million jobs in the RE/EE sector requires massive deployment of
RE/EE technologies immediately. That requires a prolonged government commitment. We
are wiser now. We know that in the face of low coal prices, the free market, by itself, won’t do
the job. We must not be satisfied with a good start. We must demand more and more support.
The public wants it, the economy needs it, global warming demands it. ST
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12 May 2009 SOLAR TODAY