Last Friday, September 12th, I attended a Senate Energy Summit on Capitol Hill. The format of the Summit included two panels of industry experts and corporate executives, whom I have referred to as “Big Wigs”. Each panelist presented a five-minute statement and then the floor was opened to the senators to ask questions. As an advocate of the advancement of renewable energy technologies, I found the Summit very encouraging.
First, the Big Wigs. Senators John Bingaman (D) and Pete V. Domenici (R), the chairman and ranking member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, demonstrated the first productive example of bipartisan dialogue that I have witnessed. Frustrated with the lack of consensus and resulting inaction of Congress in regards to Energy legislation, Bingaman and Domenici assembled a highly accomplished, diverse group of panelists to educate members of the Senate on a wide range of energy issues. The panelists included: Rick Wagoner CEO of General Motors, Douglas Steenland the CEO of Northwest Airlines, Gary Cohn COO of Goldman-Sachs, Dan Reicher the Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives at Google.org, Prof. John Deutch of M.I.T., and Marvin Odum the President of Shell Oil to name a few
As you can see, a diverse group representing academia, the automobile industry, the oil industry, the airline industry, financial services, and philanthropy – many of these industries have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. However, what amazed me the most was the overwhelming consensus between these leaders on issues such as renewable energy, oil, coal, and efficiency. Most agreed that future energy legislation needed to include provisions, incentives, and funding that supported all of the aforementioned industries. For the sake of brevity, I will list the main points that were agreed upon during the hearing
- Energy Efficiency – There was almost unanimous agreement that the most viable and immediate solution for reducing the demand of foreign oil is energy efficiency standards. Dan Reicher sited the success of California at maintaining a flat per capita energy use by implementing stringent building codes, encouraging net metering, and appliance efficiency regulations.
- Long-term Extension of the PTC and ITC – The panelists agreed that without the extension of the Production and Investment Tax Credits, the renewables industry, particularly wind and solar, would decline upwards of 90% (as it has done in the past when the tax credits were not extended).
- Tax incentives for promising technologies such as geothermal, hydrogen, and hydro.
- “Drill, Baby, Drill” – Although such a chant is unproductive, the panelists for the most part agreed that some offshore drilling needed to be in the equation. The reality of the situation is such that we cannot stop our use of oil over night. Given this reality, it makes sense to use American owned and controlled oil rather than volatile Middle Eastern oil.
- $25 billion – The amount of money allocated for loans to companies that make 25% or greater improvement in MPGs for vehicles.
- Improvement in transmission – everyone agreed that in order to sustain and support a new energy economy, better grid technology needed to be a top priority.
This is just a start, and it is not a perfect solution by any means but it shows that even industries that traditionally would have not even considered having this discussion are now participating in it. Granted, to play the devil’s advocate, they may also want to make sure they control what legislation is passed, but at the very least, they are not opposing it!
Energy bills are on the floor in the House and Senate this week. Hopefully a progressive law will be passed and propel America into a new age of innovation and prosperity.