As President Barack Obama begins his new job, industry insiders are working to bring their favorite cleantech policy ideas to the top of the new administration’s agenda.
A wide variety of options are competing for attention, with perhaps the most talked-about being a national renewable portfolio standard, which would require the country to get a certain amount of its energy from renewables, and a carbon cap-and-trade program, which would limit the amount of carbon that companies could emit and set up an auction to trade extra allowances.
Obama called for both measures during his campaign — a portfolio standard that would see the country get 10 percent of its electricity from renewables by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025, and a cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.
Either way, at the Clean Tech Investor Summit this week in Indian Wells, Calif., a number of speakers said that putting a price on carbon is one of the most critical pieces of potential legislation on the table. “Everyone in this room has a better chance of standing up to the incumbents” if that happens, said Jason Wolf, vice president of business development for Better Place, at a panel Wednesday.
Ethan Zindler, head of U.S. research for New Energy Finance, said a good cap-and-trade program could accomplish as much as all the other clean energy supports being considered. “There is some concern that some of this becomes a little redundant, if you have the cap and trade, the [renewable portfolio standard] and then also subsidies in the form of tax credits,” he said. “That’s a lot of overlapping supports for clean energy. I’d argue that if you really put a good cap and trade in place, you wouldn’t need those other things at all, but that’s a big ‘if.’”
Plenty of other pet policies also are vying for attention. Chris O’Brien, head of North American development for Oerlikon, is pushing for the inclusion of a manufacturing credit in the economic stimulus bill, which he said would encourage more manufacturing in the United States by allowing manufacturers to take advantage of the current federal tax credits.
Will Coleman, a partner at Mohr Davidow Ventures, said what’s needed is funding for all the energy efficiency programs that have been set up in the last few years. He also thinks more capital should be deployed for smart grid technologies. “We’ve got to think big about the grid,” he said.
Matt Horton, a principal at venture firm @Ventures, said he’d like to see lawmakers pay more attention to the need to improve the fueling infrastructure for biofuels. “We spent all this time and energy developing biofuels and things, and the public has zero access to them, basically, unless we figure out how to get these technologies into the public’s hands,” he said.
Not everyone is counting on substantial changes from Capitol Hill, however. “I’ve been watching the Hill too long to think that anything big will happen,” said Stanford Group analyst Christine Tezak.