Two Coasts Need to Rally Over Clean Power


cleantechinvestorsummitAs revelers at the National Mall in D.C. braved the cold to watch today’s inaugural parade, I’ve been “braving” the 80-degree weather in Palm Springs, Calif. No, I’m not taking a post-holidays holiday; I flew south to attend the annual Clean Tech Investor Summit, hosted by the International Business Forum and Clean Edge. It’s not the biggest annual cleantech gathering, but as one of last year’s attendees remarked to me then, it’s the event where the people who own the cleantech innovation mingle — in other words, the investors.

And it’s fitting that the conference kicks off on the same day that Obama takes office. The 44th President highlighted the importance of addressing the problems of energy and global warming in his inaugural speech, stating that we need to “harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories.” Now we wait, to see both if the stimulus package that includes $54 billion for clean power will pass, and if the campaign promises — which include a national renewable portfolio standard, a carbon cap-and-trade system and $150 billion for clean power — will be kept.

The investors at the summit are certainly hoping Obama follows through. In 2008, it became clear that cleantech investors saw major opportunities in an energy policy penned by Obama. According to campaign contribution data that I looked at last July, cleantech investors were found to have backed Obama 6 to 1 over John McCain. A group like Cleantech For Obama raised more than $1.6 million to support his campaign.

Of course the investors in Palm Springs largely have one goal in mind — making money from their investments in cleantech startups or clean power projects. The Obama administration and policymakers on the other coast have a myriad of others, among them to please Americans (get re-elected), fight global warming, and make the U.S. look better in the eyes of the international community. While their respective goals can at times conflict with one another, how successful the two sides will be in reaching their goals will depend heavily on how closely they are aligned.

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