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Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Renewables to Overtake Energy Incumbents Within Decade

kennedy2Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is no stranger to controversy. The environmental lawyer and president of the Waterkeeper Alliance served jail time in 2001 for trespassing after joining a protest at a U.S. Navy training facility in Puerto Rico, and wrote an article in Rolling Stone claiming the 2004 U.S. presidential election might have been “stolen” as eligible voters were prevented from casting ballots. But at the Solar Power International conference in Anaheim, Calif., on Wednesday, Kennedy called his support of greentech “the most subversive thing I’ve ever done.”

He underlined the power of the coal and oil lobbies in Washington and urged solar and other renewable-energy advocates to start showing their strength on Capitol Hill. The most important thing people can do is get involved in the government, he said. “It’s much more important to change your politician than it is to change your lightbulb,” he said to laughter from the audience. “We need to show our muscle and get tough, aggressive people on Capitol Hill, flying around in solar-power Lear jets or whatever it is. We need to be demanding, ‘Hey, we are patriotic, we are saving this country…and we need to fight these enemies.’ If a foreign enemy poisoned 600,000 children every year, we’d consider that an act of war. We shouldn’t put up with this, and we can’t put up with this.”

The costs of oil and coal far exceed their price, with taxpayers absorbing many of the hidden costs of these resources, he said, citing as examples the special roadways for coal trucks, as well as health costs, including mercury contamination of fish and people (including 640,000 children born each year who have been exposed to dangerous levels of mercury) and asthma attacks that cost 1 million workdays per year. Kennedy called upon the government to reduce the “tsunami” of subsidies going to these sources and to force oil and coal companies to pay the true costs of bringing their products to the market. “You show me a polluter, I’ll show you a subsidy,” he said. “I’ll show you a fat cat that is using the free market to escape the costs [and to get the public to pay them].”

Once a coal plant is built, the costs are just beginning, but with a solar plant, once it’s built, the electricity is free, he said. He compared the current stimulus plan with former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, saying that instead of seeing stranded assets — planes, tanks and bombs for the war — we’re building things today that will ensure prosperity for generations. “When we get done, we build a system that gives us free energy forever,” he said. “Just think what that does. In a few years, companies can come and access the biggest [permanent] tax break in the world.”

Protecting the environment is not about just protecting the fish and the birds, but about preserving important assets for future generations and about choosing long-term wealth over “a few years of instantaneous prosperity,” he said. “We’re going to democratize the energy system in this country and take it away from the incumbents over the next 10 years,” he said, calling it a choice between cheap fuel from hell and wholesome fuel from heaven. “There is a bright future ahead, and it comes from the sun.”

That said, the industry faces big challenges to shift public policy, improve transmission — and access to transmission — and figure out what public land can be appropriately used for large centralized solar projects, he said. Concentrating solar-thermal projects have very specific needs, and only a few pieces of land are suitable, but these projects are key for solar to gain a more significant piece of the U.S. energy portfolio. Rooftop PV can’t do it alone, he said. “We need a real analysis of the land to figure out which land should be preserved, because it is critical for wildlife, and what land should be used for solar thermal, and those places should be…put aside right now.”

Kennedy also urged the renewable-energy industry to make natural gas companies their friends. While many natural-gas companies still see themselves as more aligned with oil and coal than with renewables, some — such as Chesapeake Energy and T. Boone Pickens’ company, Mesa Power — have begun to realize they are environmentalists, Kennedy said.

He acknowledged the environmental impacts of fracking natural-gas wells, but called natural gas a “natural ally” for renewable energy because it’s the cleanest of the fossil fuels and it’s needed to balance out variable sources of power, such as solar and wind, until a better storage solution is developed. According to Kennedy, overturning “insane” rules in all 50 states that require utilities to dispatch coal plants before natural gas plants — which now cause gas-fired power plants to sit idle 62 percent of the time while coal plants are working 99 percent of the time — would reduce national carbon emissions by 25 percent without having to build a single new plant.

Photo courtesy of Solar Power International

12 Responses to “Robert F. Kennedy Jr.: Renewables to Overtake Energy Incumbents Within Decade”

  1. Fran Littin

    Mr Kennedy,
    You are in serious haste and misinformed about Chesapeake Energy as being environmentalists:

    “Kennedy also urged the renewable-energy industry to make natural gas companies their friends. While many natural-gas companies still see themselves as more aligned with oil and coal than with renewables, some — such as Chesapeake Energy and T. Boone Pickens’ company, Mesa Power — have begun to realize they are environmentalists, Kennedy said.”

    This company, and its head CEO, Aubrey McClendon, is not interested in the environment. McClendon is hoping to recoup his billion dollar loss last year, as well as the company’s investment (and McClendon’s stock shares) in the mineral rights on about 1.5 million acres in southern New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia that are part of the Marcellus Shale. Retrieving natural gas from the Marcellus shale is not “clean energy.” The gas is only reachable by a technique called hydrofracking, in which a mix of water and drilling chemicals are injected under pressure to fracture rock to release trapped gas. There are not enough agents working at the DEC to ensure our land and water are not polluted, as has already happened in Pennsylvania. The chemicals (from Halliburton) are toxic and are so many that it is impossible for landowners to test their wells and property conclusively prior to Chesapeake’s drilling. Afterwords, it will be impossible for the landowner to prove that the pollutants present in the soil/water weren’t present before the drilling took place. Then, Chesapeake cannot be held accountable and they will walk away with their coffers full, unaccountable to landowners left with uninhabitable/unsellable land. How is this considered environmental? Please don’t paint Chesapeake Energy as being so, or of this kind of natural gas being “clean.” It is not.
    It is interesting to note that McClendon operates a foundation, “American Clean Skies Foundation,” which exists solely to “teach” the idea that natural gas is “clean.” Hydrofracking is not clean; this is propaganda and I fail to see how it is allowed to function as a non-profit. Please, if you really consider yourself an environmentalist, look into this.

  2. We should write a clean energy jingle with a lot of celebities and put it on YouTube

    Melting ice cap, we got
    Water pollution, we got
    Coal soot in our cities, we got
    Smoke from tobacco, we know
    1 and 1 and 1 is 3
    Do it for our children
    Folk’s we’ve got a planet to get clean
    Come together, renewable energys, lets go green!

  3. For the novist and hobbyist looking to install. The best place to start Due Diligence, is at Barnes and Nobel book stores, or Google searches. Back in the 80’s the place to look was Mother Earth News magazine. But today we have the internet. I am speaking on the past twenty odd years of research and accumulative knowledge. But with technology changes every six months the price will come down. So if you plan on an installation do weekly internet searches.

    I mentioned Barnes and Nobel Book store. You can go there and find several magazines with home instalations, good success stories and horror stories. I love the fact that some actually tell what happen wrong with their instalation so others don’t make the same mistake. There might be magazine title like ECO Magazine, ot Solar Today. There might even be up to date magazine title like Green Energy, or Solar Home. When theres a craze or trend the publishers get busy printing magazines to fit the bill.

    Most solar and photovolteic panels are made from silicon. Years ago there were more manufacturers in the USA making silicon glass to make silicon wafers for the semiconductor and chip industry. Companies like Corning that made silicon glass for fiber optics. The cost comes down as more companies compete. So if you start planing your project now, three months or six months from now when you are ready to install the price will come down.

    By then utility companies will be offering solar packages where they deduct your optional lease purchase payments for the units from your monthly payment. They keep the energy tax credits and apply it to paying off your system. Surplus energy that feeds back to the grid will also reduce the balance. In a few years there will be more companies offering simular deals.

    This will play out just like the cable industry. Back in the late 70’s the cable bill was $15.00 per month and would go up every few months as technology changed and in order for the company to offer better programing and newer equiptment they had to pass the cost on the consummer. We are witnessing a paradyne shift that will change the way we consume and produce energy. I was recently looking up some companies that I knew was into high tech products for consumers Johnson Controls and Corning, are already busy working Green Technology.

    Are you ready for some football? There should be more announcements from big corporations. That are eagerly sitting on the sidelines with big bucks. Ready to make major investments in solar to lower cost. That will move the chains!