CLEAN TECH:

Google recruits lobbying muscle to promote green-power ventures

Google Inc. has launched a lobbying campaign seeking government help spurring a green-technology transformation.

"The way we use energy -- whether it's powering our cars or our homes and businesses -- hasn't changed in decades," Michael Terrell, Google's energy policy counsel, wrote yesterday on the company's blog. "Our economy needs a cleaner, more efficient way of delivering energy while giving people better tools and information to manage their energy use."

The Mountain View, Calif.-based company recruited Crowell Strategies LLC. The consulting firm's lobbyist, Colin Crowell, previously worked as a senior counsel at the Federal Communications Commission and before that as an aide to Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

It is the latest venture by Google in the political energy arena. The company already has hired lobbying firms to work on energy efficiency and renewable issues and research & development of smart-grid transmission.

"Electricity is a core issue for them," said Adele Morris, policy director for climate and energy economics at the Brookings Institution. In addition to using large amounts of power, she said, Google is "taking a growing position in electricity markets."

Google last year created the subsidiary Google Energy, which received Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval to sell electricity on wholesale markets (E&ENews PM, Feb. 18, 2010).

The company also has a stake in the renewable energy market. Last year Google Energy announced plans to buy 114 megawatts of wind energy from an Iowa wind farm and sell it to the grid. The move aimed to stimulate demand for renewable energy, company executives said (E&ENews PM, July 20, 2010).

Google could have some impact, said Dan Bakal, director of electric power programs at investor advocacy group Ceres.

"It's important that there be strong voices that are looking toward clean energy and trying to advance clean energy being involved in the lobbying debate," Bakal said. "They're a well-respected company. ... They should have some clout."

But much of what Google seeks might be difficult to achieve in the current political climate, others said.

Google said it was looking for government policies that would drive investment in "the next generation" of energy infrastructure.

"That means a smarter, more efficient power grid and more renewable power generation, whether it's utility-scale or on rooftops," Terrell wrote, adding, "We should deploy a variety of incentives to help take new technologies to full commercial scale."

The company cited energy efficiency and clean energy standards. There had been buzz about legislation that would require utilities to generate a portion of power from "clean" sources including renewables, nuclear and some natural gas. But efforts on that front have stalled, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said yesterday (E&ENews PM, March 8).

Endorsing ARPA-E

Google also wants policies that stimulate research and development "to find the next technological breakthroughs." The company has endorsed programs like Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), intended to boost ventures with the possibility of high reward. But in a time of budget cutting, ARPA-E funding is at risk.

The Senate version of the spending measure for next year funds ARPA-E at $200 million, a large cut from the $300 million figure President Obama requested last year. That is far above the House proposal that sets ARPA-E funding at $50 million.

"It's much easier to talk about research and development and clean energy than it is to talk about cap and trade. Whether something could get passed or not is a different story," Morris said. "It's hard to see how you put together the votes for anything big.

"There are too many things competing for air time," Morris added.

Google also called for the government to remove innovation barriers and "empower energy consumers."

"Consumers still lack basic information and tools for better managing their energy use," Terrell wrote. "Utility regulation must be brought into the 21st century to promote investments in efficiency and renewables and reductions in peak energy demand."

One such move would be allowing consumers to know how much their energy use costs at different times of day, Terrell said. A group of about 45 companies and organizations last April wrote a letter to Obama asking for changes to help make that possible.