Monday, February 8, 2010

HCE Day 1

US Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) and Rogers Weed, Washington State Director of the Department of Commerce
US Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) gave the keynote at today's opening session of the Harvesting Clean Energy Conference. He had many interesting things to say, and the predominantly friendly audience was liking what they heard.

His most important point: There will be clean energy jobs--lots of them--in the future. It is not a question of whether, but where.

While he was also quick to praise Washington State's largest trade partner in general, he was pointed in his criticism of how they were competing and had harsh words for what he called their "strange attitudes about trade." They trade from us, "reverse engineer" it, then close their market as they create their own competitive products. It is "unacceptable and non-sustainable." We cannot allow them to "illegally dominate the clean energy future."

Significantly, the fault is squarely our own: we have yet to aggressively compete in return. The Chinese have a "national goal" to dominate the cleantech sector, and the US as a nation needs to "stand up to them."

Funding is the key area of our competitive failure. We spend 1/30 as much on cleantech research and development as is spent on research and development for defense. According to Inslee, the US government spent more on a "bomb-proof Humvee" four years ago than on all of cleantech. Another example: the Apollo program spent 5 times as much on research and development to let astronauts "play golf on the moon" as we spend today on cleantech. China, by contrast is spending "$12M per hour in cleantech and their industrial base" to seize leadership in the world's biggest economic growth opportunity.

This lack of priority in funding cleantech has to change. We do not have "the luxury of time to wait another 10 years to do this." Echoing the famed missile gap of an earlier era, Inslee declared that there is a "race" between China (and Denmark, Germany, Spain and the UK) and us for pre-eminence, and "we're not going to finish #2!"

Where does climate change come in? He spoke of the budworm infestation that is killing thousands of acres of  forest in Washington and other states, damage he has seen first-hand less summer climbing Mt. Daniel (a splendid hike by the way.) The cause is climate change: our winters are now infrequently cold enough to kill them off. However, the key point is not about whether one believes in climate change; the reality of it is irrelevant to the question of whether we have the vision and will to be economically competitive as a nation in the world economy. He added that there was a Senator who had "been on the fence" for the past 2+ years but is now "coming over" because he sees the economic impact in his state of making jet fuel from agricultural products. It's the economy, stupid.

Inslee noted that the biggest impediment to getting a real climate and energy bill through Congress was politics, and especially the lack of awareness on the part of some of his colleagues that such legislation would have positive economic benefits, not negative ones. He applauded the "true bipartisanship" of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and jokingly alluded to the Senator's blunt observation that a "halfed-something approach (use your imagination)" was inadequate to the challenge. He repeated the oft-made jibe from the US House that the US Senate is "where good ideas go to die" and called the Senate's filibuster rules indicative of a "dysfunctional democratic organization" and an "unsustainable part of American democracy." This was greeted by hearty applause from the audience.

Inslee believes a cap of some kind is essential in any good policy; it is better than a tax because it creates a limit on emissions. Such a cap worked for sulphur dioxide to control acid rain; it will work for green house gases as well. Whether cap-and-trade, cap-and-dividend or a tax, action is necessary "to level the playing field" between the "old dirty energy" of the past and the clean energy economy of the future.

"We have to get a bill this year."

A small group of protesters showed up in the morning and held pickets out at the entrance to the parking lot. One of the organizers told me that they had been expected and were part of the Tea Party movement.

"What are they protesting?" I asked him. He shrugged. "Protesting the emphasis on cleantech? Wanting more focus on nuclear, clean coal and drill baby drill?" Every other attendee with whom I spoke said something closely similar. Inslee said it too, noting that there were people outside protesting "I'm not sure what." Perhaps they think clean energy bills will cost jobs, but the opposite is in fact true. It's odd really; President Obama basically agreed with them in the State of the Union speech, advocating all of these, even the boondoggle of so-called clean coal. But I doubt you'll hear any teabaggers praising him for it.

They seem rather to be simply...angry. Angry at whatever.

US Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) addressed the audience by video from Washington, DC, where she was caught by the Snowmaggedon. She praised Obama's proposal to dedicate $30B of the repaid TARP money for lending by community banks to small businesses, including cleantech startups. Like Inslee, she spoke of the urgent need to pass meaningful legislation, and especially creating "a true price on carbon."
Legislation can and should get done this year to provide "a predictable look at the future" for business certainty.

The Hydrovolts Flipwing Turbine demonstration unit on display just outside the main entrancetot he Harvesting Clean Energy Conferece
Driving the Hydrovolts Flipwing Turbine demonstration unit out to Kennewick from Seattle was largely uneventful. The truck, while otherwise excellent, seems to have shocks dating from, perhaps, the Carter Administration. The rig bounced like a trampoline on the slightest bump and 800 pounds of turbine got some air under it a few times. Getting diesel at a local station I noticed one of the four casters had come off completely and was just lying on the bed of the truck. How many miles had I undulated down the highway without it sliding off the bed onto the highway?

There was a football game too, but I spent most of it drinking beer and talking to some of my friends at the show. Who dat?!
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