Ending renewable energy’s villainy

September 12, 2012

The Republican and Democratic National Conventions mark the beginning of the end for the 2012 presidential campaign and – one hopes – the end of a regrettable chapter in American politics: a time when supporting real economic growth by encouraging American entrepreneurs became less important than throwing political punches.

For the better part of a year, politicians have paid lip service to aiding entrepreneurship, arguing that to pull our economy out of a recession we need to support small businesses and growing industries. Despite this, one sector filled with entrepreneurship and successful companies has been maligned, ignored, and in some instances vilified (Solyndra being the most prominent example). What’s so wrong with the U.S. solar, wind, biofuels and other clean, renewable energy industries?

It’s long past time to move beyond the accusatory politics of misrepresented facts and return to the bipartisan collaborative spirit that has driven clean energy’s success in this country. With less bad politics and more good policy, the sector can rapidly expand and make America a world leader in clean, renewable energy technology.

The fact is that the U.S. renewable energy industry is far stronger today than it was when the bipartisan Energy Policy Act passed in 2005; since then private investment has leveraged government support and both have played an important role in the industry’s success. Overall last year, U.S. solar installations doubled. Since 2007, 35 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity in the U.S. came from wind power. And last year, America produced 14 billion gallons of biofuels – double the amount of oil we import from Venezuela.

The U.S. now leads global clean energy investment, and clean technology is the leading venture capital category. Recent weeks have seen the announcement of hundreds of millions of dollars in new private investments in these technologies. For example, on July 25 investment bank Credit Suisse announced $300 million in new funding for rooftop solar installers SunRun and SolarCity. That is in addition to more than $120 billion in commitments to renewable energy by Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and other major financial institutions.

The U.S. military has also become a major supporter of energy efficiency and solar, wind, biofuels and other clean technologies for the tremendous value they provide in combat effectiveness, cost savings and energy security. There are plans to install 160,000 solar systems on military residence rooftops across 33 states. Military investments have led the nation and helped reduce the cost of advanced biofuels by more than 80 percent.

And the Army is planning to invest $7 billion over the coming years to obtain 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Most importantly, these investments will save lives and make America a more secure nation.

And herein lies the contradiction: Our nation’s biggest investors and armed forces clearly support the renewable energy technologies. Why, then, are so many politicians so far behind? Why are our nation’s biggest investors and our armed forces sticking with renewable energy technologies when some in Congress have abandoned them?

Because those politicians have failed to look at the big picture. Anyone who has invested in a new growth industry understands that success is often accompanied by some failure. To take the solar industry as one example, verticals that experience exponential growth will also have their share of falling costs. In the end, some companies go under, while others thrive. It happened with the American auto industry. It happened with the American software industry. And today, it is happening with solar. That is why leaders with the long view aren’t heading for the hills. They are doubling down.

Indeed, the investment flowing into the U.S. solar industry has driven record growth and impressive cost reductions. In the first quarter of this year, more than 18,000 solar electric systems came online in the United States – an 85 percent increase over the same quarter in 2011. Overall last year, U.S. solar installations doubled, and the average price of solar installations in the U.S. fell by 20 percent.

Growth like this has real benefits to families across the country. In the second quarter of 2012 alone, more than 37,000 new clean energy jobs were announced at projects across the country, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs. Add to that more than 100,000 solar workers, 75,000 workers in the wind industry and 400,000 biofuels jobs, and you start to get the picture. By focusing attention on isolated pockets of bad news, partisan leaders have done a great disservice to an industry that is encouraging investment, providing energy security and creating opportunity for American workers – something that cannot be said for other sectors of the economy. More to the point, they have done a great disservice to the speed and sureness of America’s economic recovery by putting partisan politics first.

We are entering uncertain waters as the presidential and congressional campaigns battle through the fall and a changed Capitol Hill – and fiscal cliff – looms in 2013. If we are truly committed to economic recovery, we must put politics aside and commit ourselves to promoting a renewable energy industry that is, by any measure, a true American success story.

PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama talks to the media on the Heil Family Farm, a wind farm, in Haverhill, Iowa, August 14, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing 


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

Well said!

Posted by Bert2 | Report as abusive

“What’s so wrong with the U.S. solar, wind, biofuels and other clean, renewable energy industries?”

Answer: Oil and coal companies spend a lot of money on politicians, as they have done for more than 100 years. Anything that looks like it might discourage the of fossil fuels, they step on it.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

Very interesting how Mr. McGinn failed to directly mention the lobbying efforts, think tanks, propaganda, etc., of the fossil fuel industry. I’m not necessarily implying that this omission is a negative.

Posted by LeonBreaux | Report as abusive

Solar and wind work well without subsidies in areas not close to grids. Solar also works well for hot water hearting in most areas. Winc works on boats. But without subsidies they are not competive in other areas.

Bio-fuels use up farmland.

Pultonium fast breader reactors would be ecconmical but for safety one needs laws that will send big wigs to jail ot excutioners for cutting corners. Radiation like all mass poisoning requires laws that say criminal murder has occured if it more than 75% probabile that deaths occured or will occure due to the poison. Deaths do occur in mass poisonings but unless level is so high it kills by itself a lot people fast the law does not reconize the murder. False test data is only one often reported abuse.

Posted by slrch | Report as abusive

Ya know, renewable energy is good if it is not bastarized. Biomass power plants using 80 year old technology to get 30 percent efficiencies is a prime example. Wind energy coupled with pumped hydro power is a real winner. Geothermal power plants are the cats meow.
How about the development of clean energy storage for cells that can be transported and used in cars and trains. No progress on transportable energy storage, none in sight. How about antimatter energy development. Check it out.

Posted by fred5407 | Report as abusive

Renewable energy is mostly vilified because congressmen and senators in the USA mostly have their campaigns funded by Big Oil. There’s a lot more money in Big Oil than there is in renewable energy, and Big Oil has a hard time recognizing opportunities to move into energy production that’s not petroleum based.

That said, renewable energy cannot replace Big Oil any time soon, nor can it replace Nuclear or Coal or Natural Gas. Cropland used for corn-based Ethanol is cropland not being used for foodstuffs. It’s also water-intensive and, like any crop, subject to problems such as drought, disease, and insects.

There is research into finding ethanol sources from plants that grow in areas where food crops cannot grow, but there, again, progress is slow and little supported.

Posted by Burns0011 | Report as abusive

1. The President and Congress support it.
2. The bureaucracy supports it.
3. Leftists, Marxists, and democrats support it.

The above are three good reasons for me to be suspicious of
“clean, renewable energy”. Besides, if these energy sources had their own intrinsic value, then not a single one would need to be subsidized or tax favored. And no, I’m not noted for my political correctness.

Posted by nikacat | Report as abusive

By the way, fossil fuels and nuclear power are very heavily taxpayer subsidized and supported and have been for several lifetimes. The support for altenative energy is a tiny, tiny fraction of that. The ongoing subsidies for ‘traditional’ or ‘conventional’ energy run from special exemptions for waste products to taxpayer funded cleanups onshore and offshore, with many more hidden costs in between.

Life cycle costs are the valid comparison, bringing all the hidden costs to light for each type of energy.

We can’t do without any of these forms of energy production now or in the near future (over several presidential terms), but we can compare energy costs on a more fully informed basis before condemning the new ideas.

Posted by Decatur | Report as abusive

There is very big propaganda how solar and other kinds of renewable energy are not efficient enough and are very expensive with long return of investment and yes mostly of that propaganda is coming from powerful coal and oil companies who don’t care for future of our nature and our children but they are interested only in their money making businesses.

Posted by saso77 | Report as abusive

[…] unrest is yet another reason that prices on gas and oil  may be rising. Certain parts of the world, such as the Middle East and Egypt play […]

Posted by Understanding rising gas prices may save the budget | The South African | Report as abusive