Clean Energy

Chapel Hill Chamber of Commerce CEO sees chances for bipartisanship on renewables

What are the opportunities for bipartisanship on renewables heading into the next Congress? During today's OnPoint, Aaron Nelson, president and CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce in North Carolina, discusses the future of federal clean energy policy and his expectations for the wind production tax credit, which expires at the end of this year.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Aaron Nelson, president and CEO of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce in North Carolina. Aaron, thanks for coming on the show.

Aaron Nelson: Well, thanks for inviting me.

Monica Trauzzi: Aaron, you're in town as part of a group of chamber CEOs from across the US speaking with leadership about federal clean energy policies. What's the word at this point? Does it seem like this is the kind of issue that we might see some bipartisanship on?

Aaron Nelson: I think so. We're getting strong support, and people are surprised to see a coalition of business leaders, of chambers of commerce from across the country, show up and advocate for clean energy policy. And I think that they find that refreshing, and when we bring Republicans and Democrats from urban and rural, from red and blue states, to talk about it, it's having an impact.

Monica Trauzzi: Does Solyndra still have traction, and do you still hear complaints about the government picking winners and losers when it comes to energy technology? Is that still a main focus?

Aaron Nelson: So I think Solyndra has passed. The election is over, and we're moving forward on the next four years. And with respect to picking winners and losers, we're picking winners and winners. I mean, the federal government through all of its policy and tax policy and incentives makes investments in different kinds of industry, and has for decades and decades. This is no different than that. So I don't think we're picking winners and lowers.

Monica Trauzzi: And so ...

Aaron Nelson: I think we're investing in the future.

Monica Trauzzi: Then does that mean that a group like yours would support then continued investments in the oil and gas sector in addition to clean energy technologies?

Aaron Nelson: Well, personally, I'm supportive of an all of the above strategy, and so is our chamber. But Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy is really focused on clean energy solutions, and we think that if we invest in that part of our economy, that there's incredible job growth opportunity all up and down the line. Now for example, in wind, it used to be 4 or 5 years ago, only 25 percent of the stuff being made that made, you know, the widgets in the windmill were made in the U.S. Now 75 percent of that material is being made in the U.S. So there's great investment opportunity, great future.

Monica Trauzzi: Governor Romney took North Carolina during the President election. What do you think the argument is within the Republican party in favor of extending the wind PTC?

Aaron Nelson: Well, we're seeing bipartisan support on the wind PTC. It's a $1 billion investment, but it incentivizes and will bring about $15 billion of investment. It's a good return, and it's job growth, and much of that job growth are in Republican districts, and all throughout the country it's a great investment at the right time.

Monica Trauzzi: So you think the wind PTC will make its way out of all these fiscal cliff discussions?

Aaron Nelson: Well, what we're hearing is that at the tail end of all of this there's going to be a bunch of stuff get put together, some extenders bill, or, and who knows what'll get tossed into that. But we're hopeful and feeling positive.

Monica Trauzzi: So what we're hearing is that it's possible that it'll just be a short-term extension. Do you think that that's enough for the industry to sort of get on its feet and get into a position where perhaps it won't continue to need these incentives?

Aaron Nelson: So longer-term makes better sense. Folks want to make long-term investments that, the people providing the capital want that; the people investing in the factories and plants as well. But a one-year extension would be exceptional, particularly one that just requires that it get under construction within 2013, rather than it be completed and online, because that will allow just a little bit more time for projects to grow.

Monica Trauzzi: So you're, in your community specifically, what would the net impact be if the PTC were not to be extended?

Aaron Nelson: Well, in North Carolina, we're not a big wind generation place. Lots of solar and solar generation activity, and folks are, well, everybody's nervous. Folks have stopped making that investment. And once the PTC is extended, we think that both in North Carolina, with some of the wind stuff that we've been up to, and then we're talking to our friends in Colorado and other places, the moment that it gets extended, they think that there's a reopening of investment, and folks will be pushing forward again.

Monica Trauzzi: Do you think the discussion on the PTC and sort of what the outcome is there will foreshadow how Congress might handle other clean energy issues for the next four years?

Aaron Nelson: I don't know. I don't know specifically on where folks are aligned. Everybody has their self-interest on what works in their own community, and then they have this broad interest of flowing more renewables into, into the general energy supply. So I'm unsure about that.

Monica Trauzzi: Why isn't more emphasis put on private sector investment and the opportunities that exist in the private sector, let's say if the, you know, the government did not continue these incentives?

Aaron Nelson: Well, I think that there's, this does, this is about investing in the private sector. This isn't the government building wind farms. This is the government providing a tax incentive, tax credit, and we incentivize all sorts of behavior that we desire. We do it with home ownership, we've done it with charitable giving, and in this case, we're doing it with production of alternate modes of energy.

Monica Trauzzi: OK. We'll end it there. Good luck with your meetings in town this week.

Aaron Nelson: Thank you, ma'am.

Monica Trauzzi: Thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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