Thursday, June 05, 2008

Liveblogging from Windpower 2008: News Conference on Policy, Security

After the morning panel discussion, AWEA held a news conference with the panelists. This is an excerpt of the questions from reporters and bloggers (including one from yours truly) and the panelists' answers.

Q: General Clark, what would federal energy legislation look like to you?

General Clark:

“Big picture legislation would look like cap and trade legislation, benchmark goals and a timeline, incentives, research and funding, energy efficiency standards apart from the cap and trade system and incentives to promote energy efficiency. If you put those in and probably some other pieces like dealing with the strategic petroleum reserves, you could address energy security in terms of infrastructure and protection.”

Wood didn't think government was the most effective way to create change. What it should do is create a market, he said, like with renewable energy standards, and then let the market work itself out.

But, Clark responded, you do need a regulatory piece when you’re talking about carbon sequestration or nuclear power. To launch technologies like these, we’ll have to have a public-private partnership.

“…There are winners and losers as you move forward. It’s who gets what, how much, how soon that determines whether these programs work or not. Emphasize the best technology and spread the profit opportunities around in a fair way. Spread it wide enough to pick up the little producers as well as the big producers.”

I thought about the American Petroleum Institute/Newsweek energy series last week at Stanford, and how a few of those panel members said the real test of renewables would come when the price of oil comes back down. And so I asked these panelists: “If the price of oil were to plummet tomorrow, how would this effect renewable energy markets and the political will to keep moving in this direction?”

General Clark answered first, noting that although we’re at a time when the price of oil and the awareness helps the drive towards cleantech, the fundamentals of energy policy – like the cost of oil extraction – don’t change with the price of oil exactly. Oil prices are certainly a stimulus to cleantech, but regardless of the price of oil, it’s still a matter of national security and climate change.


"When I was in the White House [as President Clinton’s Chief of Staff], oil was $13 a barrel…but we didn’t capture what the cost of that all meant to climate change, the economy, and the effect it had on national security like the regimes in the Mid-East. We need to learn from that experience.”


“Even at $65/barrel, you could still do corn ethanol and other more efficient fuels profitably. I think we’re there and it’s going to take time to change out the auto fleet but I think we still will.”

Next, a reporter asked whether the climate bill in the Senate could put coal on the right track?

Wood was skeptical that Congress could deal efficiently with a topic as complicated as energy and global warming. Instead, he said, we should have a bill that either says “Coal, you’re over with” or “Coal, you have to get cleaner.” Although there have been a number of states who have just said “no” to coal, he questioned: can we do that as a nation?

Goodell completely agreed with Wood except he thought such a straightforward move on coal would be politically impossible:

“You’re asking politicians to put their finger on the red button…It’s easier to do it if it looks like you’re doing something else rather than to just say what you’re doing. It’s one of the hottest political issues right now.”

Then Podesta made an interesting point: If Congress can’t pass a bill to regulate CO2, the EPA now has the authority to directly regulate CO2 from power plants. “I think [that option] can be a backstop to partisan gridlock.”


But like the states that have put renewable energy standards in place and are now getting into the dirty details, the details of national CO2 regulation will get at least as messy, especially when we start talking about who’s going to pay for what. So how far down into this new cleantech market does government legislate? Yesterday afternoon, I arrived to a session late but just in time to hear a panelist practically yell:

“If government’s going to create the markets then they can't set the prices! You either regulate [emissions] or you don’t, but a bill that creates a ‘free market’ and then sets a price or price limit will fail. That’s what Europe did and it didn’t work. Let the market decide.”

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