The Wall Street Journal is the midst of hosting their inaugural ECO:nomics conference down in sunny Santa Barbara. And while conference goers have already heard from Walmart CEO and president Lee Scott Jr., GE CEO Jeff Immelt and Duke Energy president and CEO Jim Rogers, there’s more to come. Friday morning cleantech guru Vinod Khosla will start the day off with a discussion of the ethanol hype, to be followed by reps from Suntech Power, the X PRIZE Foundation, and Babcock & Brown Wind Partners. Finally there will be closing remarks on California’s role as a cleantech leader from Governator Schwarzenegger.
Here are some highlights from the first two days.
Avoiding all pretensions, Walmart’s Scott cut to the chase saying simply “We are not green.” The retail giant isn’t rushing to be greener for the environment’s sake. And as for when Walmart will achieve its stated goal of having zero waste and using 100 percent renewable energy, Scott said “I have no idea.”
An early and outspoken proponent of a federal carbon cap-and-trade scheme, GE’s Immelt laid into America’s regulatory stagnation. Uncertain carbon prices make for uncertain coal investments, expiring tax credits threaten renewables, and no clear nuclear plan has stalled new nuclear plant progress. These are all major profit centers for GE. Immelt stressed that the U.S. can’t drag its feet forever: “If the U.S. doesn’t buy my wind turbines, I’ll go to Turkey.”
Warning against an “unholy trinity” of politicians, over-eager carbon traders and radical environmentalists, Duke Energy’s Rogers hopes that carbon permits will be issued to utilities for free to help “build a bridge to make the transition to a low-carbon economy.” However, he assured the sympathetic audience that Duke was not looking for windfall profits saying “I make a commitment that every one of those allowances will go straight to my customers, and I will sign that commitment in blood.”