Wesley Clark, four star general, former presidential candidate and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, told an audience of thousands of attendees at the Solar Power International convention on Tuesday that the U.S. “must achieve energy independence” for the sake of U.S. national security and financial stability. While Clarks says solar is a key technology that can help deliver that goal (and at one point called for solar panels on every strip mall in America), he also pushed for a balanced approach and advocated more controversial measures, such as implementing a U.S. carbon tax.
With almost four decades of experience with the U.S. army, it’s not surprising that Clark highlighted energy through the lens of national security, defense and conflicts with unfriendly nations with abundant oil. Abundant oil is actually “a curse” for countries because it distorts economies, Clark said at one point, and said he has been thinking about energy issues since the start of his career, when he conducted the first pentagon study of the energy crisis.
In Clark’s view, the path forward is a combination of policy and technology gains, and he said both a cap-and-trade system and a carbon tax were looking to be inevitable. Given that imposing taxes is not the most politically-friendly position, Clark was quick to say nobody thinks it will be a substantial tax. Al Gore, whom Clark attributed with making the U.S. realize the size of the energy problem, has also voiced support for a carbon tax.
Clark emphasized a balanced solution to address energy independence (perhaps not as much cheerleading as the solar industry wanted to hear), which would include clean coal, nuclear, and possibly Pickens’ Plan of wind and natural gas-powered cars. Clark said ultimately it should be left for the market to decide the winners.
Clark also pointed out that what is currently available in the solar industry is “first-generation” technology. The industry has better technology and the prices will come down, Clark said, adding “Can’t we do this?” Clark, who became an investment banker and consultant after his army retirement, pointed out that there are opportunities all over the world to invest in solar and energy technology — though Clark’s commitment to country still seems to come first. He ended his speech by saying, it’s ultimately not about profits, it’s about U.S. security and energy independence.
Image courtesy of Wesley Clark for president.