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Senate Climate Bill: Greentech Reactions, Programs to Watch

After very much ado, Senators John Kerry and Joseph Lieberman on Wednesday unveiled their proposal for a climate and energy bill. Dubbed the American Power Act, or APA, the 987-page bill represents a jumping-off point for debate in the Senate over regulations, government investments and incentive programs that could shape the market for green technologies for years to come.

The basic goal laid out in the draft is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 83 percent by 2050. Venture capitalist John Doerr said today he deems the bill a “pragmatic framework” that will be “crucial to the success of American entrepreneurship.”

It has taken nearly eight months of negotiations with lawmakers and interest groups to get to this point, drawing tens of millions of dollars in lobbying efforts, and many hurdles remain for actual enactment of the comprehensive climate legislation. Senator Lindsey Graham, who originally joined forces with Kerry and Lieberman to draft the legislation but pulled back from the effort last week, said today he does not expect the Senate to act on the bill this year.

Here are five areas with implications for greentech innovators and startups to keep an eye on as the political wrangling runs its course.

Vehicles & Transportation

The Kerry-Lieberman proposal includes significant provisions for electric vehicle development, manufacturing and infrastructure. It calls for the Secretary of Transportation to create a “national transportation low-emission energy plan,” for identifying near- and long-term needs for vehicle charging infrastructure.

The bill also would establish a Clean Vehicle Technology Fund within the Treasury with the goal of enabling the EPA to provide grants for automakers and component suppliers to refurbish or expand factories for advanced technology vehicles. Grants could also be used to “support engineering integration of certain vehicles and components such as plug-in electric drive vehicles.”

David Vieau, President and CEO of A123 Systems (s AONE), a Watertown, Mass.-based startup that’s backed by the Department of Energy and working on batteries for electric vehicles and grid storage, praised the legislation, saying it, “holds one of the keys to meaningfully accelerate the transition to clean energy solutions for transportation and the grid.”

Texas oil baron and natural gas advocate T. Boone Pickens also praised the bill for its “focus on a broad energy package that includes replacing foreign oil/diesel/gasoline with cleaner, abundant domestic natural gas in America’s heavy duty fleets.” The proposal calls for tax incentives to convert fleets of trucks and heavy duty vehicles to natural gas vehicles.

In the larger scheme of greener transportation, the bill would require states and metropolitan planning organizations to develop targets and strategies for reducing emissions, and provide funding through the Department of Transportation to help finance approved programs — potentially a boon for companies working on services and systems for smarter, more efficient urban transit.

Renewable Energy

Among the highlights for renewable energy ventures is a proposal to establish a Clean Energy Technology Fund for development of energy technologies, and to increase the clean energy manufacturing tax credit by $5 billion. Denise Bode, chief executive for the American Wind Energy Association, said the industry group is looking forward to enactment of a renewable electricity standard — which is not included in Kerry and Lieberman’s draft.

Utilities & the Smart Grid

Utilities including PG&E, National Grid and Exelon cheered what they see as protections for ratepayers in the legislation — “such as a firm price collar and free emissions allowances to local delivery companies,” as Exelon CEO John Rowe put it in a statement. PG&E (s PCG) chief executive Peter Darbee also suggested that if provisions in the bill go into law, it could serve as a green light for companies to invest in the innovations that so many cleantech startups are toiling away to produce. The bill, he said, “provides business with the incentives, clarity and support needed to spur investment in new technologies.”

Energy Efficiency

Not everyone shares the utilities’ perspective that Kerry and Lieberman’s proposal will protect consumers. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEE) criticized the legislators for “gutting the energy efficiency provisions in their bill,” which could mean unnecessary costs for consumers.

According to ACEEE Executive Director Steven Nadel, a pair of key provisions included in the House version of the climate bill have been either “dramatically reduced” or dropped altogether. He notes that the draft unveiled today provides less than a quarter of the emission allowances that would fund state energy efficiency programs under the House bill. And a requirement for natural gas utilities to use a portion of their free emission allowances to provide energy efficiency programs to customers did not make the cut in the Kerry-Lieberman proposal.

In addition, the Senators have proposed for consumers to get rebates through their energy bills (according to the bill summary: “two-thirds of revenues not dedicated to reducing our deficit are rebated back to consumers through energy bill discounts and direct rebates”). ACEEE believes the move will hide the costs of inefficiency and hamper conservation. “While we support consumer rebates to offset costs,” said Nadel, “these rebates should be provided in other ways, rather than directly on energy bills.” Ultimately, he said, the plan, “will result in only limited energy savings, and without these savings, costs to consumers will be higher.”

The Valley of Death

Jonathan Wolfson, CEO and co-founder of Solazyme, an algae fuel developer that has a development deal with Chevron, commented in a statement that Kerry and Lieberman’s plan, “will allow companies to continue to develop and bring to scale innovative, low carbon technologies.”

For more research on clean tech financing check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):

Cleantech Financing Trends: 2010 and Beyond

Image courtesy of Steve Rhodes’ photostream.

8 Responses to “Senate Climate Bill: Greentech Reactions, Programs to Watch”

  1. It is time to act !

    You keep procrastinating, hoping the problems will be solved by others, but they are getting worse. Even the retail price of gasoline is passing $3.00 per Gallon in most areas. By Thanksgiving it will be over $4.00 again. How long are you going to wait, to be certain this is not temporary and Bread will soon be 5 cents a Loaf again? That is not going to happen, prices are rising. We need to stop shipping our funds off shore inside the empty oil tankers.

    Others have said we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil for transportation fuel by 1/3 in the next ten years. The Major auto manufacturers have announced electric car production starting in a few months. But they are only making 100,000 cars per year, as usual. Even if ten start producing that will only be 10 million newer electric cars on the road by 2020. But there are 230 million cars on the road in the USA today. So, we need to do conversions of 70 million cars already on the road to meet the auto fuel usage goal. We have 3 million Gas fuel auto mechanics in the USA. And some of them will be put out of work and need retraining. We need to retrain at least one million to be “Safety Trained” and “Technically Wise” to work on and do the conversions on the 80 million electric autos we want on the road in the USA by 2020.

    What are you doing about this? We need to go forward with a two step training process. The qualified gas fueled auto mechanics both experienced and many just out of technical training schools need a short course in “High voltage Electrical Safety” because new electric cars have batteries much more than 75 volts ratings, some over 450 volts. The mere momentary physical contact of a human’s skin to such high voltages is potentially lethal. That is why these mechanics need “Safety Trained” and they need to understand what the electrical components and motors, and batteries do also to be “Technically Wise” and capable of successfully servicing, repairing, and converting electric cars.

    I have formed a Corporation to teach individuals just as I have described above. The course only takes a Month (160 hours), we have a good Curriculum available. We have a Viable Profitable Business Plan. We have a Franchising plan to allow rapid geographic expansion while maintaining high quality of education. We have most of the initial staffing ready to jump in. We have ME, a 20 year experienced “Adult and Secondary Vocational” and “Special Education” Certified Instructor with 40 years of electrical and automotive experience. We are Ready, Willing, and Able to start-up and run with this Corporation, “Electric Vehicle Technical Institute Inc,” All we are in need of is funding assistance, The Pilot program School would produce several thousand EV Techs, (Electric Vehicle Technicians) And would be the Franchise model. Of course Colleges and Universities would start courses after seeing our success but that might take two or three years. We need to get started NOW ! Remember 2020 is only 9.5 years away.

     Dennis Miles
      Phone: (863) 944-9913
      Tampa Bay Region, Fl.