More Spending on Potato Chips Than Clean Energy R&D

For the  third year in a row, the Center for American Progress Action Fund, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, held a day-long clean energy summit, gathering high-level industry leaders, policy experts, investors, and public officials to talk over important things in Nevada.

Called the "National Clean Energy Summit 3.0: Investing in American Jobs," this latest gathering, on September 7, 2010, yielded some interesting points of view and a passel of spiffy quotes.

As John Podesta, president and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, charged in his remarks: "This year's summit reinforces the urgency of adopting a national clean energy strategy that boosts private investments for new technologies and jobs."

Podesta suggested that the remaining "potential in the sustainable energy market could revive the stalled economy and end the recession."

He also told the assembly that "The focus now has got to be on getting these worlds and mechanisms together to finance innovative, renewable technology."

Austan Goolsbee, lead economist for Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, claimed that clean energy "has the potential to employ both highly skilled scientists and blue-collar workers hurt by the stalled construction industry," and pointed out that "it offers a wider distribution of opportunity than almost any advanced future-leaning industry that you can think of." Goolsbee suggested the goal that "export-led growth in United States should emphasize clean energy technology."

Phillippe Cousteau told those at the summit that "Time is running out for ourselves and future generations. The cost to our health, the cost to our security, and the cost to the environment of our addiction to fossil fuels has distorted our economy."

L. John Doerr, an American venture capitalist with Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers in Menlo Park, California, told the astonished assembly that "the total amount we're spending on clean-energy research and development programs is right around $5 billion. Americans spend more on potato chips than we spend on clean-energy research and development."

In fact, until recently, the federal government was spending less on clean energy R&D than, not just potato chips, but also on federal employee parking subsidies!

The conference was not an Amen Corner, by any means. Thomas Donohue, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, suggested that America should look for more oil here at home. "We need every source of energy that we can get," he insisted. But T. Boone Pickens, a successful oil industrialist, disagreed. Pickens argued that "You can only produce so much," and asserted that domestic production would never meet our domestic needs. As for imported oil, Pickens was derisive, saying: "How can you use oil from the enemy that is dirty and more expensive? I am telling you, we are going to go down in history as the dumbest crowd that ever was."

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took the podium to exhort "We need to take that little spark and turn it into a wildfire ease the nation's security problems and help overcome economic woes."

Reid discussed the political climate, too, saying "We have got to be able to suck it up and say 'I may not get all I want.' We are not going to be able, as much as people want, to have a price on all carbon. the utilities are really interested in because they want the certainty…."

Summing up, Reid said he "remains hopeful the Senate will complete work this year on a narrow energy bill that includes provisions to boost deployment of natural gas-powered trucks and rebates for home energy efficiency retrofits."

In years past, these conferences have developed and amplified clean energy policies that became law or underwent serious consideration by the U.S. Congress. Credit these conferences with pushing such ideas as the long term extension of tax credits for wind and solar power, and the upgrading and expansion of the U.S. electrical transmission "grid," which is key to moving solar and wind power from the locations where they can be most effectively generated to the locations where the power will most likely be used.

More later ...

Photo credit:  Evan Shay