Growing the Options: Mid-Atlantic Clean Economy Leaders Roundtable With Former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine

Cleantech deniers are spending big these days to bolster their lobbying agenda. They’re airing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of anti-clean energy “Super PAC” advertisements, trying to block congressional renewal of the wind power production tax credit. And they just pushed a “No More Solyndras Act” through the U.S. House of Representatives. It’s all part of an aggressive, ongoing effort by the fossil fuel lobby to push clean energy policy into the culture wars (hat tip to J. Patrick Coolican of the Las Vegas Sun).

But if you look through the propaganda haze, the fact remains that Americans, even in very red states, overwhelmingly support growing the clean economy. If regular people (not lobbyists) had their way, politicians from both parties would be trying to out-compete themselves on who could be better at growing the clean economy. Instead, in many states, clean economy sectors are faced with a choice between one candidate who might be favorably inclined to help, and another who mocks what we do or even cheers on the demise of American clean economy companies.

In Virginia, which has one of the most closely watched Senate races in the country between two former governors, there has been an interesting contrast. Former Senator George Allen has routinely and aggressively mocked clean energy, while former Governor Tim Kaine actually sought out a meeting meet with clean economy leaders.

In an effort to grow our options, we got 10 mid-Atlantic clean economy players together for a roundtable discussion with Governor Kaine at our headquarters (list of participants below).

Our message was:

1.) Clean economy sectors are real industries.

2.) We’re expanding, employing people and helping make the economy cleaner and more efficient.

3.) The obstacles to scaling the clean economy are surmountable.

4.) What we need is a business environment that’s stable, effective and conducive to helping the clean economy grow, whether in the mid-Atlantic region or nationally.

5.) Americans deserve a public dialogue among our leaders that actually reflects the sentiment of voters, who want us to grow.

The clean economy scaling ideas participants offered were compelling:

  • Ned Hall of AES stressed the need for a coherent, all-of-the above energy strategy at the federal level, with the aim of ensuring that the Production Tax Credit and Renewable Portfolio Standards result in renewable energy supplies growing and becoming more cost effective.
  • Mark Wagner of energy efficiency giant Johnson Controls argued that innovations such as his company’s “unique performance contracting” mechanism for energy efficiency upgrades are a “win-win success story.” Savings are guaranteed for the customer, while the energy efficiency company makes money as well.
  • Markian Melnyk of Atlantic Wind Connection emphasized the tremendous potential that building offshore represents to scale wind energy. Low natural gas prices have created the “head room” to accelerate clean energy deployment without rate shock to power consumers. Governor Kaine compared the opportunity we face to the “peace dividend” after the Cold War ended – but this time for an energy revolution.
  • Ken Locklin of Impax Asset Management raised the intriguing idea of “Clean Energy Victory Bonds,” while Standard Solar CEO Tony Clifford talked about the importance of extending “Master Limited Partnerships” to clean energy sectors (They are available only to fossil fuels now.)
  • Participants agreed on the need for enhanced STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) education, as well as making the real cost of fossil fuels – including subsidies, tax credits, and loopholes – transparent.
  • I made the point that we need to stop blowing taxpayers’ money on the wrong things, such as welfare to mature dirty energy sources, and instead increase our investments in the right things – energy efficiency and clean energy and upgraded transmission.

No one at the roundtable expects Governor Kaine, Senator Allen, or anyone else in public life just to do our bidding. But the fact is that we are real companies, belong to growing sectors, and are far less policy dependent than the fossil fuel lobby is on government help. Helping us make the U.S. economy more efficient, cleaner, and more sustainable is a good thing, and we ought to have a lot richer set of options for how to get that done – and who can do it.

In the end, this was just one roundtable. But it was a start.

*Participants in the forum included: Gov. Tim Kaine (now running for U.S. Senate); Ned Hall, The AES Corporation; Tony Clifford, Standard Solar, Inc.; Mark Wagner, Institute for Building Efficiency, Johnson Controls; Markian Melnyk, Atlantic Wind Connection; Ray Henger, Own Energy; Alec Hoppes, AREVA Solar; Mike Healy, Skyline Innovations; Ken Locklin, Impax Asset Management U.S.; Anthony Smith, Secure Futures.