LAS VEGAS — Federal investment has spurred innovation in solar and wind power technologies, and now is "not the time to pull back on those investments," President Obama said yesterday. Speaking at the eighth annual National Clean Energy Summit, hosted by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Obama touted clean, renewable energy as a way to not only cut emissions that contribute to climate change but also create jobs and grow the economy. For Congress and other naysayers, the president had little patience.
"And as long as I’m president, the federal government is going to do its part beyond the investments we have already made," Obama said, speaking at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center to a crowd of about 1,000 people. "Now’s not the time to insist on massive cuts to the investments in R&D that help drive our economy, including the hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts that many Republicans want to take from these successful job-creating clean energy programs."
The president’s remarks came after the administration earlier yesterday pledged money toward a slew of programs aimed at expanding everyday Americans’ access to renewable energy technologies (Greenwire, Aug. 24).
Chief among the initiatives, the White House called for $1 billion in additional federal loan guarantee authority to support distributed energy projects, such as micro-grid technology, storage and rooftop solar.
The administration also launched a joint effort between the Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development focused on giving low-income households more access to renewable energy, including rooftop solar panels. Soon, single-family homeowners will have access to dollars under the Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) program.
PACE financing allows homeowners to install energy improving technologies and pay back the cost over time through their property taxes. When the property is sold, the remaining PACE loan stays with the more energy-efficient property, and the next owner is responsible for repaying the loan, according to the White House’s fact sheet on the executive and private-sector actions. In addition, HUD’s Federal Housing Administration, which administers the PACE program, will make it easier for homeowners to borrow money to make energy efficiency improvements.
"We’re taking steps to allow more Americans to join this revolution with no money down," Obama said.
The National Clean Energy Summit has emerged as a destination for those in the renewable energy industry, said John Podesta, Obama’s former top environmental adviser and current chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.
Speaking with reporters, Podesta said Nevada, due in large part to Reid’s prominent position in the Senate, has emerged as a leader in the clean energy movement. Since 2009, renewable energy generation has increased 180 percent in Nevada.
"I think what this forum has done is become a go-to place in August," he said. In reference to the 100-plus-degree heat, he added, laughing, "Everybody can begin to think about what the future is going to be like with climate change."
‘An all-in perspective’
The summit has been the creative birthplace of the kinds of ideas and support that have enabled the president to do what he’s been able to do, Podesta said.
"Look, I think the president has just done game-changing efforts," he said. "He’s got a sort of all-in perspective on this, and that’s really created the opportunity for him to be a leader internationally."
Also announced yesterday were the approval of a California transmission line that will bring online a 485-megawatt solar array in Riverside County to power more than 145,000 homes and an interagency task force to promote clean energy.
As part of the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy’s Micro-scale Optimized Solar-Cell Arrays with Integrated Concentration (MOSAIC) Program, $24 million for 11 projects in seven states across the country was announced to develop innovative solar technologies. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz said the goal with these projects is to double the amount of energy each solar panel can produce from the sun while reducing costs and the space required to produce electricity.
Speaking at the summit, Moniz said all clean energy tools, including carbon capture and sequestration, are crucial to develop in the fight to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and stave off global warming.
"We need all the tools we can get," he said.
Solar is no longer just for those who want to save the environment, or the "tree huggers," the president added.
"You don’t have to share my passion for fighting climate change," he said. "A lot of Americans are going solar or becoming more energy efficient not because they’re tree huggers — although trees, you know, are important; this is why you hug them — but because it costs less. They like saving money, and I’m all for consumers saving money, because that means they can spend it on other stuff."
The economic case for ‘moving forward’
Increased choice was a recurring theme during the all-day summit, which was originally created to bring together governments and the private sector to work together on clean energy solutions and modernizing the electricity grid, according to organizers. In addition to Obama, speakers included leaders from utilities, solar technology companies, renewable energy finance firms and electric carmaker Tesla.
Geisha Williams, president of electric operations for Pacific Gas and Electric Co., said that as recently as just a few years ago, Americans seemed to take energy for granted, but not anymore.
"Today, we’re seeing a huge movement toward customer choice," Williams said. "They still want affordability, but they’re keenly aware of carbon. It’s almost a moral obligation to become greenhouse gas emissions-free. The expectation is that we will help them get there."
Last year, wind accounted for almost 5 percent of all electricity generated in the United States, and solar less than 1 percent, but the president noted that solar made up almost one-third of all new generating capacity installed last year. Wind power made up another 20 percent.
"There’s a big shift underway that goes beyond simply putting solar panels on your home," Obama said. "The revolution going on here is that people are beginning to realize they can take more control over their own energy, what they use, how much, when."
The president also took time to lambaste "fossil fuel interests who want to protect the outdated status quo."
Obama took aim at fossil fuel companies and investors like the Koch brothers, calling into question their commitment to a free market, but only when it suited them.
"Think about it. Normally, these are groups that tout themselves as champions of the free market," the president said. "But in this situation, they’re trying to undermine competition in the marketplace and choke off consumer choice and threaten the industry that is churning out jobs at a fast pace."
The remarks are the latest from the president in attempt to speak "frankly and frequently" about climate change, said Brian Deese, the president’s senior climate change adviser, on a call with reporters. In the coming days, the president will travel to New Orleans and Alaska on a 11-day "climate tour."
Obama added that there still remains a lot of work to be done in order to grow the renewable energy sector, but between technology improvements and market growth driven by consumer desire, clean energy presents itself as a worthwhile bet.
"Folks whose interests or ideologies run counter to where we need to go, we’ve got to be able to politely but firmly say we’re moving forward," he said.