The 42nd U.S. President, Bill Clinton, delivered a top 10 laundry list of actions that the U.S. government should take to help solve the energy crisis during a speech to kick off the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas on Monday night. Along with the list, which advocated various incentives to accelerate the proliferation of clean technologies, Clinton suggested some more controversial plans: he raised the idea of a single state, like Nevada, or an area like Puerto Rico becoming energy independent — he said this could “rock the world.” And beyond his concrete policy advice, Clinton also confirmed previous reports that his foundation is looking into helping build solar thermal projects in India.
The speech, which was followed by a Q&A with John Podesta, the president and CEO of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, provided some of the more innovative and forward-thinking policy ideas we’ve heard to date. Clinton emphasized the fact that the new clean energy economy has to deliver “good economics,” and if we aren’t convinced of the positive financials, we won’t be able to convince other countries to join us. So what’s the federal government’s role in ensuring all that? Here are Clinton’s top 10 suggestions:
1). Congress must pass legislation that puts a price on carbon and establish a cap-and-trade system. The alternative is passing a carbon tax, Clinton says, but adds that he tried that route already and it didn’t work out too well.
2). We need to renew and lengthen the tax credits for clean energy. The time frame needs to be longer than three years — more like 6 to 10 years. That is the only way to stimulate enough production of clean energy technologies.
3). It’s important to figure out the federal government’s role in modernizing the electrical grid, including both efficiency and carrying capacity. The grid wastes a lot of energy moving power, given that the wind blows and the sun shines in places where a lot of people don’t live. Tax payers should also be able to split the cost of modernizing the grid with utilities.
4). Utility decoupling should be federally mandated. That’s what California has done on a state level, separating its utility profits from electricity sales, and has thus become one of the most efficient energy states in the nation. While this has been an issue for the states, Clinton says the federal government should take on this task.
5). We should have legislation to accelerate replacing traditional incandescent lighting with LED lighting. This could save us the equivalent power of a dozen power plants over the next 20 years.
6). On the production side we need to continue to fund carbon capture and storage projects. China is bringing on a new coal plant every 10 days or so, so we need to figure this technology out.
7). We need to accelerate the move from corn-based ethanol to more sustainable biofuels. The conversion ratio is twice as good, but the enzyme process is twice as expensive. Many of the corn ethanol plants can be easily modified to produce cellulosic ethanol from the waste of farm crops. We can’t continue to raise the price of food and skew production patterns. It seems worth it to have differential tax incentives to do this right.
We should consider doing a joint investment with Brazil, potentially in the Caribbean, which would import sugar cane-based ethanol into the U.S, but it would not be subject to the tax that is placed on the rest of Brazilian ethanol. It might not be politically feasible, Clinton added.
8). We should have a program to shut down urban landfills and use them for either waste heat or fertilizer. The green house gas coming out of landfills is methane, which is pretty bad. “We do a lot of work around this area with my foundation,” he said. Organic landfills should just not be there — it’s bad for global warming, and it’s a public health nightmare.
9). We need to accelerate the move to hybrid and electric vehicles and modernize our railway system. After our party lost, Clinton said, we were succeeded by a group that thought high-speed rail was virtually closet communism.
Biofuels are also just a transition to electric and hybrid cars. We have this electric vehicle technology today, and it’s made in America. The technology would probably require larger tax credits, but it would be worth it because the prices for electronics would immediately drop — think the iPhone or a flat-screen TVs.
10). We need to demonstrate to the rest of the world that this is not an affectation for rich countries — that this is as big an opportunity for developing counties as it is for wealthy countries. The most popular thing the U.S. has done is its work with AIDS and Malaria, including work done by the Gates and Clinton Foundations. We need to also use this model for what we could do for clean energy development in the developing world.