Some politicians are trying to turn clean energy into something dirty. They say we ought to cut federal support for energy programs - unless maybe they involve drilling for oil and gas.he money to do it by eliminating tax breaks to Big Oil companies.
In a Science magazine editorial, Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates says that if Americans don’t do more to support clean energy innovation, we face a very dim future.
Gates is part of a group of business leaders (the American Energy Innovation Council) that is urging the country to increase federal energy research funding from $5 billion to $16 billion a year.
“The United States is uniquely positioned to lead in energy innovation, with great universities and national laboratories and an abundance of entrepreneurial talent,” Gates writes in Science. “But the government must lend a hand.”
The richest person in America says the investments needed to develop major new technologies like clean energy are just too big to be covered only by venture capital or traditional energy companies. He also points out that the market alone can’t drive enough growth in clean energy needed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that are causing global warming and all the climate problems that come with it. Government needs to help.
Even if we don’t support clean energy to help save our planet, America should support clean energy if we want to save our economy and our future as a world leader, Gates adds.
“History has repeatedly proven that federal investments in research return huge payoffs, with incredible associated benefits for U.S. industries and the economy,” he writes. “Yet over the past three decades, U.S. government investment in energy innovation has dropped by more than 75%. In 2008, the United States spent less on energy R&D as a percentage of gross domestic product than China, France, Japan, or Canada.”
Unfortunately, funding clean energy investments may be even more difficult due to the failure Monday of the so-called super committee to agree to a deficit-reduction plan.
But as Gates points out, and a new USA Today analysis shows, investing in clean energy is a good idea.
While conservatives in Congress and on the campaign trail continue to beat up the Obama administration over the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program, USA Today's analysis confirms that government has actually been pretty good at picking winners and losers in clean energy and other technologies when you look beyond Solyndra.
“So far, the legislation has sparked adoption of electronic medical-records software and nurtured an electric-car industry that will sell at least 20,000 cars this year,” USA Today contributor Tim Mullaney writes. “At least 19 companies have gone public or filed for IPOs after getting stimulus money, from Solazyme's $21.8 million grant to build a pilot biofuels refinery to a $1.6 billion loan guarantee letting BrightSource Energy build the world's biggest solar-generation plant of its kind, according to securities-disclosure filings.”
According to the USA Today analysis conducted by tech research firm International Data Corp., federal investments have helped spark:
-An 82 percent gain in the stocks of 11 health care technology companies since President Obama took office.
-A 263 percent gain in the three public companies that took $7.8 billion of federal financing to build next-generation vehicle factories.
-A 79 percent jump in stocks of the four leading energy-efficiency companies.
-A 54 percent increase in stocks of companies involved in developing smart electric grids.
Overall, the federal investment in new technologies has soundly beaten the stock market and most venture-capital funds raised in 2008, according to the USA Today piece.
As Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu has taken to saying, America has a choice when it comes to clean energy.
This time, the choice is whether we listen to nay-saying politicians and pundits who say clean energy is “propaganda” and that we ought to just give up and let China take over America’s energy future.
Or, we can listen to visionaries like Bill Gates and investors who see America’s future in clean energy.
It’s our choice.