Friday, July 31, 2009

Fraud? Identity Theft? Impersonation? All In A Day’s Work

How many lobbyists does it take to screw in a lightbulb up democracy?

Turns out, just one. This morning the Charlottesville Daily Progress reported that the lobbying group Bonner & Associates had sent deliberately forged letters to freshman U.S. Representative Tom Perriello from the local NAACP and Creciendo Juntos, stating opposition to the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). In June, two weeks before the House passed the bill, six letters (copies here and here) supposedly sent from these two organizations urged Rep. Perriello to "Please don't vote to force cost increases on us, especially in this volatile economy."

The author of the letters was identified as an employee with Bonner & Associates, a firm noted for dubious astroturf lobbying, and has lobbied on behalf of utility companies in the past. The firm did not register to lobby on behalf of any company or organization against the cap-and-trade bill.

“They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it. They forged a letter and sent it to our congressman without our authorization,” said Tim Freilich, who sits on the executive committee of Creciendo Juntos... “It’s this type of activity that undermines Americans’ faith in democracy.”

Rick Turner, the President of the local NAACP branch responded, saying:

“I am very appalled as the president that our organization has been misrepresented in this way by this bogus … letter,” Turner said. “I hope that whoever’s behind this will be brought to justice.”

In fact, Turner said, the NAACP supports the American Clean Energy and Security Act, as he said it would create good-paying jobs for blacks and reduce harmful emissions, particularly in urban areas.

“Clean energy creates jobs in the urban setting,” he said.

Events like this make me wonder, what else has been done in the name of legitimate organizations? It turns out, this is not the first time Bonner & Associates has been confronted with dishonest lobbying tactics. In 2002, Bonner and Associates was hired by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America to kill drug reform and used a front group to manipulate local minority organizations to oppose drug reform. In response to the Maryland prescription drug event, Jack Bonner said "It's democracy."

How are lies and deception 'democracy?'

Rep. Ed Markey, co-sponsor of ACES announced this morning a congressional investigation of the incidents:

This fraud on Congress shows that some opponents of clean energy have resorted to forgery and theft to block progress.

This is an appalling abuse, and Congressman Tom Perriello deserves great credit for seeing through it and casting a vote that will create clean energy jobs in Virginia and throughout the United States. I encourage all Members of Congress to be on the lookout for other suspicious and illegal materials.

Given that opponents are willing to resort to willful deception, lies and fraud, we must be all the more vocal in demonstrating public support a clean energy economy. We must strengthen our alliances to make sure this kind of organizational identity theft does not divide our movement. We must speak truth to power, like the Avaaz Action Factory is doing today, and make sure that this story is exposed for the scandal it is.

Cross-posted on It's Getting Hot In Here.

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Action Alert: DC lobbyists use naked fraud to oppose climate bill! Rapid response protest scheduled

BREAKING NEWS and ALERT from the Avaaz DC Action Factory

This morning the below story broke: LOBBYISTS FORGED LETTERS TO CONGRESS ON CLIMATE BILL

Update: see photos from today's protest of this naked fraud here.

A DC Lobbying firm stole the trademarked logo and organizational name of the NAACP and a community group in Charlottesville, VA and wrote a letter purporting to oppose the ACES bill in the house.

This is a prime example of dirty money fueling lies in DC. It is an affront to Democracy and a hindrance to passing the climate legislation our country desperately needs. We need to call them out and make this a national story.

RAPID RESPONSE ACTION:

What: Picket / Rally outside of the perpetrators' offices. Visuals will include "naked" lobbyists holding signs admitting to "naked fraud" and climate destruction.

Where: 1101 17th St NW (Near Farragut Square Metro stops)

When: 2:30 PM, Friday July 31.

Who: Avaaz Climate Action Factory and YOU!

For Inquiry: call David Sievers at 301-455-2357 or Morgan Goodwin at 413-884-5240

Resources: Download and view the forged and fraudulent letters here (NAACP) and here (Creciendos Juntos), [both pdfs].

Story from the Charlottesville Daily Progress.

Forged letters to congressman anger local groups
By Brian McNeill
Published: July 31, 2009

As U.S. Rep. Tom Perriello was considering how to vote on an important piece of climate change legislation in June, the freshman congressman’s office received at least six letters from two Charlottesville-based minority organizations voicing opposition to the measure.

The letters, as it turns out, were forgeries.

“They stole our name. They stole our logo. They created a position title and made up the name of someone to fill it. They forged a letter and sent it to our congressman without our authorization,” said Tim Freilich, who sits on the executive committee of Creciendo Juntos, a nonprofit network that tackles issues related to Charlottesville’s Hispanic community. “It’s this type of activity that undermines Americans’ faith in democracy.”

The faked letter from Creciendo Juntos was signed by “Marisse K. Acevado, Asst Member Coordinator,” an identity and position at Creciendo Juntos that do not exist.

The person who sent the letter has not been identified, but he or she was employed by a Washington lobbying firm called Bonner & Associates.

Gwynn Geiger Hegyi, a partner with the company, traveled to Charlottesville to apologize to Creciendo Juntos’ chairwoman Dilcia Colindres and sent a letter to Freilich.

“As I shared with Dilcia when I travelled to Charlottesville last month to personally apologize for the mistake which we discovered and contacted you about, we immediately fired the person on our staff responsible for the error,” Hegyi wrote in the July 22 letter to Freilich.

Hegyi and others at Bonner & Associates did not return two phone calls Thursday seeking comment for this story.

More than a ‘mistake’

In a letter notifying Perriello’s office about the matter, Freilich said he was “offended” by Hegyi’s characterization of the forged letter as a “mistake.”

“This was not a ‘mistake,’” wrote Freilich, who is also legal director of the Immigrant Advocacy Program of the Legal Aid Justice Center. “This was a deliberately and carefully forged letter that used the logo, address and name of Creciendo Juntos without authorization. Additionally, I understand from Ms. Hegyi that our organization was not the only Charlottesville-area organization whose reputations were used in an unauthorized manner to try to influence Congressman Perriello on this particular vote.”

After being notified of the bogus Creciendo Juntos letter, staffers in Perriello’s office realized that the wording of the letter sounded familiar.

The staffers dug through the stacks of thousands of letters, e-mails and faxes Perriello received about the bill — the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 — and found five more forged letters, these purportedly from the Albemarle-Charlottesville branch of the NAACP.

M. Rick Turner, president of the local NAACP branch, said he checked his organization’s roster and found none of the five people who signed their name to the five faked letters.

NAACP ‘very appalled’

“I am very appalled as the president that our organization has been misrepresented in this way by this bogus … letter,” Turner said. “I hope that whoever’s behind this will be brought to justice.”

In fact, Turner said, the NAACP supports the American Clean Energy and Security Act, as he said it would create good-paying jobs for blacks and reduce harmful emissions, particularly in urban areas.

“Clean energy creates jobs in the urban setting,” he said.

The fake NAACP letters were faxed to Perriello’s office from the Arlington headquarters of a company called Professional Risk Management Services Inc. A representative of the company said she had no knowledge of why the fax would have been sent from her office, adding that at least 60 employees have access to the fax machine.

Perriello’s press secretary, Jessica Barba, said the congressman’s office knows of only the five forged letters, but there may be others they have not yet discovered.

“There could be more, but these are the only ones that we’re aware of right now,” she said.

With regards to the Creciendo Juntos letter, it is not known who — if anyone — hired Bonner & Associates to lobby against the bill, which also is known as cap-and-trade legislation. The staffer who the company said was fired may not have been working in any official capacity when he or she created and mailed the forgery.

Bonner & Associates was founded in 1984 by Jack Bonner and is considered a pioneer in the field of “strategic grassroots,” in which the firm manages grassroots campaigns on behalf of its clients, which have included Fortune 500 companies and national associations in all 50 states.

Artificial campaign

The AARP Bulletin reported in 2006 that the “60 Plus Association” hired Bonner & Associates in 2003 to manage what it called an “Astroturf” campaign against prescription drug legislation in Minnesota and New Mexico, meaning that it was an artificial version of a grassroots campaign.

Bonner & Associates hired callers to identify themselves as members of the 60 Plus Association and urge residents to ask their governors to veto the legislation. Pharmaceutical company Pfizer later admitted that it had paid Bonner & Associates to undertake the campaign, AARP reported.

An examination of lobbyist disclosure forms filed with the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives shows that Bonner & Associates did not register to lobby on behalf of any company or organization against the cap-and-trade bill.

However, a lobbying firm only needs to disclose their clients if the client pays them more than $3,000 in a filing period, at least one employee spends 20 percent of their time lobbying, and that employee made at least two lobbying contacts within the filing period. Managing a grassroots campaign might not require public disclosure of lobbying activities or clients.

Bonner & Associates has disclosed a few clients in recent years. For example, the company took in $150,000 to lobby on behalf of the Electric Utility Shareholders Alliance between 1998 and 2000,
according to the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics.

In a report Wednesday, the Center for Responsive Politics revealed that oil and gas companies greatly increased their spending on lobbying between April and June, primarily because of the
cap-and-trade energy bill. During the second quarter of 2009, these companies spent $37.7 million on lobbying congress, representing a 30 percent increase over 2008.

Perriello ultimately voted in favor of the bill, which narrowly passed the House on June 26 in a 219 to 212 vote. The bill is now before the U.S. Senate.

Perriello’s vote has drawn the ire of some critics who say the measure will increase electricity bill costs and eliminate jobs.

Barba, however, criticized the bill’s opponents for the forged letters.

“It’s very unfortunate that opponents of this bill would resort to deception and made-up letters,” she said. “Spreading false information is not healthy for real debate in our democracy. Congressman Perriello voted in favor of the bill because of its potential to create clean energy jobs, which is why the NAACP and many other groups supported the legislation in the first place.”

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Senate Rejects Obama's Energy Education Program

By Yael Borofsky, originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

Yesterday the U.S. Senate passed the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3183) appropriating $34.3 billion in energy spending for FY2010. The bill supports Barack Obama's campaign promise to shut down Nevada's Yucca Mountain nuclear waste facility and funds numerous water initiatives set-forth by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Notably absent, however, is any funding for RE-ENERGYSE (REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge), Obama's proposed initiative to close the energy education gap by preparing young Americans to compete in the race for clean energy. From Obama's initial proposal of $115 million, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees rejected the program by cutting funding to $7 million and $0, respectively. The bill that passed through the Senate, by an 85-9 vote, contained no mention of the forward-thinking and much-needed education program.

By rejecting RE-ENERGYSE, Congress has ignored this critical component of President Obama's call for global competitiveness in clean energy technology. This decision is especially disappointing in light of the expression of "strong" opposition to defunding RE-ENERGYSE" voiced by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) the day before the Senate bill passed.

Recent advocacy initiated by the Breakthrough Institute in support of RE-ENERGYSE, however, is reason to believe that there is still a future for this crucial education program. The signatures of over 100 universities, youth and student groups and other organizations on a letter to Congress urging the full funding of RE-ENERGYSE, demonstrate the widespread and growing constituency committed to training America's youth for leadership in the growing clean energy economy.

In an op-ed published in the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday, Breakthrough's Teryn Norris and Jesse Jenkins advocated for an aggressive commitment to bolstering energy education and innovation funding in order to bring a new generation into the clean energy workforce. Neglecting this obligation, they cautioned, could cause America to fall far behind its Asian competitors in the gathering clean-energy race.

Despite the disappointing lack of foresight displayed by Congress' rejection of Obama's RE-ENERGYSE program, the Breakthrough Institute will continue to lead advocacy efforts to garner support for this critical clean-energy initiative. If you are interested in supporting these ongoing efforts, contact Jesse Jenkins, Breakthrough Institute Director of Energy and Climate Policy at jesse[at]thebreakthrough[dot]org.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Building a Climate Movement from the Seat of a Bike

Cross posted from Solve Climate, by Alisha Fowler

Back on May 18, nine cyclists left their homes in Seattle and headed out for a bike ride. Now, this might not sound like much of a story at first. But the thing is, these cyclists are still on the road. They have gained a few more team members since they began — cyclists from 11 other states have joined in — and they just arrived in the nation’s capitol.

The riders are young activists on a Trek to Re-Energize America. This week, they are meeting with members of Congress and calling for strong, immediate action on climate change.

"We started out saying we were 'building a movement from the seat of a bike,'” said Jolene Brink, the lead Minnesota Trek Organizer."What this has turned into is recognizing the movement that is already growing in towns and cities across the country, and the desire out there for change."

Over the past two months, the Trekkers have gathered hundreds of stories from American cities and towns about sustainability, climate change, energy and the future of life in America. They have found that Americans from all walks of life are ready for a clean, green economy but that they need more government support to make a full transition to a more sustainable future.

The riders are now taking that message from the streets to the halls of Congress.

Check out below the fold to read about Kokomo, Indiana, the Twin Cities, and a rally in D.C.!

Kokomo, Indiana

When JP Kemmick, one of the Trek’s main organizers, rode into Kokomo, he found a city fearing it could lose its main industry — making transmission parts for Chrysler. Kokomo was hit hard by the economic slump, as transmission orders sank and a stream of layoffs ensued. Rather than get stuck in the past, however, Kokomo began working to reshape itself into a new, greener hub of innovation.

Kemmick toured the city’s new sustainability initiative, a biodiesel facility that turns used vegetable oil from local restaurants into public and government fuel. The project began in response to climbing gas prices last year and stuck as residents reaped the benefits of a local, inexpensive fuel source and less waste in their sewers.

The city is now developing a blueprint for a sustainable economy and future, with residents and officials planning a transformation into a center of green innovation in the Midwest.
“The new green economy is coming. Towns like Kokomo, unafraid to be the first to experiment with new methods and approaches, are also going to be the first to see the benefits of going green,” Kemmick said.

Minneapolis and St. Paul

In Minnesota's Twin Cities, the Trekkers found another community searching for a clean, sustainable way forward.

The Summer of Solutions is comprised of high school students, college students and recent college grads who are experimenting with sustainability solutions on a variety of scales with targets ranging from urban agriculture to making neighborhoods more efficient to tackling green jobs and green manufacturing opportunities.

Kemmick sat in on one of their green jobs brainstorming sessions and was struck by how intrepidly the group explored the process of transforming a Ford plant into a green jobs manufacturing center and what such a change could mean for the community’s future. The energy in the room was palpable as the group discussed strategies for success, Kemmick said.

Innovators like these would go farther more quickly, he said, with stronger support from the federal government for research and transformation.

Kayford Mountain, West Virginia

Further east, mountaintop removal activist Larry Gibson hosted the Trekkers at his home on Kayford Mountain, a site his family has lived on since the 1700s. The area around Gibson's home has been devastated by mountaintop removal coal mining, a process that is literally leveling chunks of Appalachia, filling valleys with debris, and polluting the streams that area residents and wildlife rely on.

Amid the hardship found in so many communities, the Trekkers noticed a passion for innovation and sustainability, said Lucy Richards, Colorado Trek Organizer.

In Washington, D.C., this week, the group is taking that message into meetings with more than 30 members of Congress. They're sharing the stories of the American towns and cities they visited, and they're asked the federal government for strong, immediate action on climate change. Supporting clean energy innovation that can take the place of destructive and climate-changing fossil fuel use is a step in the right direction, Kemmick said.
“We let them know that all across the country, ordinary people are working in their communities to ensure a better, more sustainable future for everyone, and they need the federal government to get on board."


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Joe Romm's Strategy to Lose the Clean Energy Race

Now featured at HuffingtonPost, by Jesse Jenkins and Teryn Norris

On Monday, Joe Romm of Climate Progress publicly attacked us for publishing an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle -- called "Will America lose the clean energy race?" (a longer version was posted here at Huffington Post.). In that piece, we urged Congress to fully fund President Obama's energy education initiative and scale up direct pubic investments in low-carbon energy to accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy.

Romm asserted that our op-ed "attacks" President Obama and Democratic leaders, when in fact it calls on Congress to support Obama's RE-ENERGYSE energy education program and urges greater public investment in clean energy to compete with Asian challengers. Yet Romm never mentioned the central focus of the op-ed -- RE-ENERGYSE and our efforts to rally support behind it, including a recent sign-on letter with over 100 organizations -- and instead criticized us for what he called "willfully misleading nonsense" about Asian countries' planned investments in clean energy.

Romm proceeded to make several factually incorrect statements about Asia's plans for clean energy investment that contradict research in publicly accessible reports and analyses, including those by the Center for American Progress (CAP), which employs Romm. The Breakthrough Institute wrote a comprehensive fact check here to correct Romm's numerous misstatements and clarify the details of public investment plans in China, South Korea and Japan.

Romm also criticized us for asserting that Congress must strengthen the Waxman-Markey bill with greater investments in clean energy to compete with Asian challengers and accelerate our transition to a clean energy economy. Why? Because Romm apparently believes the Waxman-Markey proposal -- which would invest only $10 billion per year in clean energy and energy efficiency, a commitment of less than 0.1% of U.S. GDP -- is sufficient to win the clean energy race. It is not.

"Waxman-Markey would complete America's transition to a clean energy economy, which started with the stimulus bill," reads the title of a prominently featured post on Romm's website, a claim he has repeated multiple times. "Waxman-Markey would generate more clean energy action than any piece of legislation passed by any country in the history of the world!" exclaimed Romm in another recent post as part of his consistent and ongoing cheer-leading for the legislation.

Romm supports his assertion by arguing that Waxman-Markey would invest $14 billion per year in clean energy. This figure is in fact faulty. Romm relies on a House Energy and Commerce Committee summary of Waxman-Markey (rather than his own independent analysis), which relied in turn on an EPA analysis in April of the early draft version of the bill. However, according to the EPA's more recent analysis of the actual bill, Waxman-Markey would invest only $8 to $10 billion per year between 2015-2020, as we explain in detail here and as we stated in our op-ed.

But regardless of whether the number is $10 or $14 billion annually, this pales in comparison to China's planned investment of $44 to $66 billion per year and is clearly insufficient to "complete America's transition to a clean energy economy." A group of 34 Nobel Laureates recently submitted a letter to President Obama urging $15 billion per year in Waxman-Markey for R&D alone, and the Brookings Institution calls for $20-30 billion per year in R&D. The Breakthrough Institute strongly advocates a minimum investment of $30 to $50 billion per year in low-carbon energy research, development, demonstration and deployment, of which $15 billion should be for clean energy R&D, as recommended by President Obama and the nation's top scientists.

China, South Korea and Japan are all redoubling (re-tripling or re-quadrupling may be more accurate) their efforts to spur domestic clean energy industries, building on their stimulus investments by launching major, sustained clean energy investment programs. In the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the United States allocated over $60 billion to be spent over two years building American clean energy industries -- an excellent start. Yet the Waxman-Markey bill would slash that level of commitment by two-thirds. Romm is apparently content with letting U.S. investments in clean energy technologies and industries lapse. The Breakthrough Institute is not.

Ironically, in the face of massive direct public investments in countries like China, South Korea and Japan, both the Breakthrough Institute and the real policy analysts at the Center for American Progress believe the U.S. is falling behind in the clean energy race. A recent CAP brief noted that "competitors dominate green industries while America is left behind." CAP's Julian Wong and Andrew Light were some of the first analysts to highlight China's reported plan to invest $440 to $660 billion in clean energy over ten years. And in a report titled "We Must Seize the Energy Opportunity or Slip Further Behind," CAP analyst Ben Furnas argued that "when it comes to preparing our country to compete in the new energy economy ... we lag behind most of our competitors in the rest of the world."

The Breakthrough Institute believes the gathering clean energy race demands a vigorous and sustained commitment to clean energy technology and industries and has called on Congress to strengthen U.S. climate legislation, boosting clean energy investments from its current level of $10 billion per year to at least $30-$50 billion per year. In contrast, Romm ardently supports weaker legislation that would invest just $10 billion per year in clean energy and energy efficiency, less than one quarter of China's planned investments. That may be acceptable to Joe Romm -- but it is no way to win the clean energy race.

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DC Climate Bill Update (Via 1Sky)

Jason Kowalski, a policy expert with climate advocacy group 1Sky, has an excellent and handy update on the climate bill "situation report" from DC. Here's the skinny on upcoming Senate committee timelines, political posturing from critical moderates, and how the health care debate is impacting the climate scene:

1. Timeline

Environment and Public Works (EPW) Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) has promised the release of her committee's discussion draft on September 8, the first day back from recess. By releasing a discussion draft after recess, EPW has the potential to positively influence other committee processes as titles get marked up before the September 28th deadline. The current schedule:

  • 8/8 - 9/7: Senate August recess;

  • 9/8: EPW discussion draft to be released;

  • 9/8 - 9/25: Committee mark-ups held;

  • 9/28: Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-NV) mark-up deadline for all Senate Committees with climate jurisdiction.

2. EPW and Finance Committees

Aides from the EPW Committee have said that their draft of the bill will not include "detailed language" on allocations, as they may wait until the markup process before they tackle the allowance scheme (like Energy and Commerce Chairman Waxman (D-CA) did in the House).

Chairwoman Boxer is being pushed by climate champions like Sens. Sanders (I-VT), Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Whitehouse (D-RI) to strengthen short-term emissions reduction targets "beyond 17% by 2020" (in anticipation of attempts at weakening on the floor), while Sens. Carper (D-DE), Baucus (D-MT), and Specter (D-PA) want a more moderate bill from EPW. Carper has specifically said he wants a more "centrist" EPW draft.

Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) has been clear that his committee will mark-up the international trade and allocations provisions of the climate bill.

3. Posturing amongst the Moderates

Senators have begun posturing in anticipation of what will take place in September. Here's a brief rundown of some public comments we've seen since ACES passed in the House:

4. How Will Healthcare Delays Affect Climate?

Though healthcare floor action has been pushed until after the August recess, climate champions are insisting they will hold a vote this year. EPW Chairwoman Boxer and Agriculture Chairman Harkin (D-IA) have promised to stay on track with their committee pieces of the bill, and Foreign Relations Chairman Kerry (D-MA) is denying that the healthcare calendar will have any effect on climate (E&E). The White House is maintaining that both agenda items are the "valued children" of the Administration, and they will continue to press Congress to pass both this year.

Read more on:

Bottom line: Wins beget wins. A win on healthcare helps raise the political capital necessary to pass a strong climate bill before Copenhagen.

Thanks to Jason and 1Sky's Rhiya Trivedi for the update. Check out the 1Sky "Skywriter" blog for frequent updates.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Obama Administration "Strongly Opposes" Senate's Attempt to Cut RE-ENERGYSE Program


By Devon Swezey,
Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

Today, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) expressed "strong opposition" to the Senate's attempt to cut funding for two key Obama administration energy initiatives, which received no support in the recent committee markup of Energy and Water Appropriations bill. The bill significantly scales back support for the administration's Energy Innovation Hubs, and its completely zeroes $115 million in funding requested for President Obama's new energy education initiative, RE-ENERGYSE.

According to Congress Daily:

OMB raised concerns about certain provisions, saying it strongly opposes reductions in funding for Energy Innovation Hubs, and the science and engineering education outreach campaign RE-ENERGYSE program, among other concerns.

"The Hubs will advance highly promising areas of energy science and technology from their early states and RE-ENERGYSE will help develop the science and engineering workforce needed to bring those ideas to life by encouraging tens of thousands of American students to pursue careers in science, engineering, and entrepreneurship related to clean energy," OMB said.
The Breakthrough Institute recently organized a letter signed by over 100 institutions and universities urging Congress to fully fund the Re-ENERGYSE program, which they said "will train America's future energy workforce, accelerate our transition to a prosperous clean-energy economy, and ensure that we lead the world's burgeoning clean technology industries."

Yesterday, Breakthrough's Jesse Jenkins and Teryn Norris penned an op-ed for the San Francisco Chronicle warning that without a vigorous commitment to education and innovation in order to bridge the energy education gap, we will effectively cede the clean-energy race to our Asian competitors.

The full Senate took up the $34.3 billion Energy and Water Appropriations bill yesterday, and plans to clear it by the end of the week.

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Joe Romm Ignores Facts in Attacking Breakthrough Institute Op-Ed

By Devon Swezey. Originally posted at The Breakthrough Institute

On Monday, Joe Romm of Climate Progress publicly attacked the Breakthrough Institute for publishing an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle -- called "Will America lose the clean energy race?" -- which urged Congress to fully fund President Obama's energy education initiative and scale up direct pubic investments in clean energy to boost U.S. economic competitiveness and accelerate the nation's transition to a clean energy economy

Romm never mentioned the central focus of the op-ed -- President Obama's energy education program (RE-ENERGYSE) and the Breakthrough Institute's efforts to rally support behind this program -- and instead attacked it for what he calls "willfully misleading nonsense" about Asian countries' planned investments in clean energy while apparently defending the smaller investments in the proposed Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act.

Romm asserts that the op-ed "attacks" President Obama and Democratic leaders, when in fact the op-ed is aimed at supporting the President's RE-ENERGYSE program and calling for larger public investment in clean energy to compete with Asian challengers. The RE-ENERGYSE initiative is currently in danger of being cut by Congress at a time when the U.S. is severely lagging in energy science and technology education, and last week the Breakthrough Institute organized over 100 universities, student groups and other organizations to submit a letter urging Congress to fully fund the initiative.

Romm makes several factually incorrect statements about Asia's plans for clean energy investment that contradict research in publicly accessible reports and analyses, including those by the Center for American Progress (which employs Romm). Here is a fact check to correct Romm's misstatements and clarify the details of investment plans in Asia:

1. The op-ed states, "China alone is reportedly investing $440 billion to $660 billion in its clean-energy industries over 10 years."

Romm's response:

"the China figure -- while it is certainly impressive and definitely should motivate U.S. action (as I have argued) -- is "reported" and cumulative over 10 years. It is part of their stimulus and NOT just R&D, but an investment in clean-energy industries broadly defined"

Facts: China's planned investment of $440-$660 billion over 10 years is indeed part of an economic stimulus package, but not the original $586 billion stimulus that is passed late last year, as Romm implies. The new investment, according to a recent paper by Andrew Light and Julian Wong of the Center for American Progress (CAP), is part of a planned second stimulus package that is "dedicated solely to new energy development over the next decade, including generous investments in wind, solar and hydropower." China is planning to make a sustained commitment to clean energy investment by building on the clean energy investments in their first stimulus package rather than being content with a one-time investment.

China's massive clean energy investment plan is indeed "reported," or planned. A top source for Breakthrough Institute's figures are analysts at CAP, who have repeatedly published the same figures, including recently in Congressional testimony. These numbers were reported early by the AFP and have since been republished several times, including recently by the Washington Post in an article similar to Norris' and Jenkins' op-ed, titled "Asian Nations Could Outpace U.S. in Developing Clean Energy."

The Breakthrough Institute has never suggested that China's investment is centered solely around R&D, nor have we suggested that U.S. clean energy investments should be solely focused on R&D, despite Romm's ongoing effort to misrepresent our position, which strongly supports direct public deployment of clean energy technology (see here for a summary of Breakthrough's clean energy investment policy recommendations).

2. The op-ed states: "South Korea is investing a full 2 percent of its gross domestic product in a Green New Deal."

Romm's statement:

"Note that South Korea's Green New Deal -- $38 billion cumulative over the next four years-- is a stimulus bill covering all environmental projects (not just clean energy) and includes, for instance, 'More than 2,500 miles of bicycle expressways.' As the Guardian reported in April, the SK government promises to spend only about $1.8 billion 'on research into low-carbon technologies' and 'the renewable energy spending share of South Korea's green new deal is a disappointingly low £80m [$120 million] mostly on solar-powered homes, photovoltaic heating and geothermal power sources for apartment blocks.'"

Fact: As Mr. Romm writes, the South Korean government announced a "Green New Deal" stimulus bill in January that totaled $38 billion, $30.8 billion of which was set aside for "green" investments, according to the investment house HSBC. However, a smaller portion of that spending, $1.8 billion, will go towards "renewable energy."

What Mr. Romm seems to have completely missed, however, is that South Korea has since announced an even larger investment of $85 billion over 5 years, or close to 2 percent of its 2008 GDP each year, dedicated to a "green growth" strategy primarily centered around clean technologies and industries. As Reuters reported on July 6, the new investment is "mainly for encouraging green growth industries and technologies such as renewable energy, LEDs (light-emitting diodes), smart power grids and hybrid cars, is expected to create up to 1.81 million jobs."

While it is unclear if the $85 billion includes, or is in addition to, the original $30.8 billion in "green" investment, the plan still represents at least a doubling of South Korea's commitment to creating a clean energy economy, with a primary focus on clean energy investment. It should also be noted that South Korea's economy is about 1/14th the size of the U.S. economy, and a "green investment" representing a comparable share of the U.S. economy would be in the range of $285 billion per year.

3. The op-ed states: "Japan is redoubling incentives for solar, aiming for a 20-fold expansion in installed solar energy by 2020."

Romm's statement:

"Note that Japan's investment is also from an expected "new stimulus plan," as Reuters explained in April article with the less than ominous headline, 'Japan solar subsidies lure fewer users than planned.' Note also the use of the key word 'aiming' for a 20-fold expansion. In fact, as Reuters explains 'A top economic and fiscal policy advisory committee said last month that Japan should increase its solar power capacity 20-fold by 2020 from 2005 levels.'"


Fact: While the green portion of Japan's economic stimulus spending to date has indeed been marginal -- $12.2 billion according to HSBC -- Japan has recently announced an ambitious goal to be "the number one solar power in the world." In order to accomplish this goal, Japan has launched a "Low Carbon Technology Plan" that includes $30b in new investments in low-carbon technology R&D over five years, and another plan, "The Action Plan for Achieving a Low-Carbon Society" which aims to significantly improve solar cell efficiencies and reduce generating costs to that of conventional energy. In order to spur demand for solar PV, Japan has re-instated aggressive residential PV installation subsidies and has proposed a new long-term deployment incentive for solar, equal to 50 cents/kWh. The vision to make solar energy cheap was articulated not just by "a top economy and fiscal policy advisory committee," as Romm asserts, but by Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso, who announced in April a national goal to "increase the electrical output from solar power to 20 times the current level by 2020."



In reality, none of the statements in the op-ed concerning Asia's investments are misleading, and are in fact supported by news reports and studies far more current than the ones Mr. Romm cites, drawn from sources including the Center for American Progress.

Romm also relies on outdated analysis of the ACES bill, which will only invest around $10 billion per year in clean energy, broadly defined (~$9b from allowance allocations and ~$1b from the CCS Demonstration and Early Deployment fund). Romm writes that the ACES legislation would allocate 13% of allowances to clean energy and energy efficiency measures, equivalent "to nearly $14 billion a year -- not the $10 billion a year TBI says."

To arrive at this faulty figure, Romm relies on a House Energy and Commerce Committee summary of ACES (rather than his own independent analysis). That E&C summary relies in turn on an April EPA analysis of the early discussion draft version of ACES that estimates the price of carbon allowances to be $17-$22 from 2015-2020. However, as both Mr. Romm and the Energy and Commerce Committee surely know, EPA published a more recent update of their ACES analysis in June, reflecting numerous changes since the formal introduction of the ACES bill. That most recent EPA analysis projects a lower allowance price of $13-$16 between 2015-2020, as a result of "the looser 2020 cap and the expanded amount of international offsets allowed," EPA explains. At these more recent and updated figures, clean energy investments in ACES would amount to $8-$10 billion per year between 2015-2020, consistent with the Breakthrough Institute's analysis of ACES and statements in the op-ed.

However, regardless of whether the number is $10 or $14 billion annually, this clearly pales in comparison to China's planned investments of $44 to $66 billion per year. Breakthrough Institute strongly advocates a minimum investment of $30 to $50 billion per year in low-carbon energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment, of which approximately $15 billion should be for clean energy R&D, as recommended by President Obama and the nation's top energy scientists.

While the investments in the U.S. stimulus bill represented a large and unprecedented increase of public investment in the U.S. clean energy economy, it is clear that winning the clean energy race will require sustained investments of at least this amount or more, something that the ACES legislation recently passed by the House fails to deliver. While our Asian competitors are all planning to build on their existing stimulus investments with major sustained investments in their own clean energy economies, the U.S. is poised to move backwards, from ~$35b annually in clean energy investments in the stimulus to just $10b annually in the ACES climate bill. That may be acceptable to Mr. Romm. But it is no way to win the clean energy race.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Study: Geothermal Could be Cost-Competitive for a Fraction of Oil and Coal's R&D Investments

By James Burgess. Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

A recent study at NYU's Stern School of Business analyzes the returns on government energy R&D investments and comes to the conclusion that geothermal and wind power could, for a relatively low price, become cheaper than fossil fuel electricity in a matter of years.

The study used a well-known method of analyzing technology cycles that predicts learning curves for emerging technologies. This "S-curve" heuristic guesses that the performance of new technologies, plotted against effort (i.e. total money invested) is shaped like an S.

Early in the life of the technology, improvements are gradual as the basic properties are worked out and an effective design is formed. Next comes a period of rapid growth as the now-stable technology captures "process innovations" and economies of scale. Finally, the rate of improvement slows as the technology becomes mature and improvements become hampered by the dominant structure of the technology and its industry - until the potential emergence of a new competing technology with its own S-curve.

Although such an analysis makes some major simplifications, these S-curve cycles are well-documented throughout history in technologies as diverse as disk drives, steam engines, semiconductors, and automobiles (to name a few).

With the S-curve model in hand, the authors of the report sought to determine the curves of some major alternative energy technologies in order to project how much investment is necessary to reduce the their marginal costs.

Their results show that the total sums are surprisingly small - in the context of energy R&D investments. Just over $3 billion would be necessary to make advanced geothermal technologies cost-competitive with fossil fuels, the authors conclude. (N.B.: that's "hot rock" or "enhanced" geothermal technology, which can be used essentially everywhere, not just at hot springs locations, see graphic.) This is because geothermal's S-curve is currently going steeply up - each additional investment causes a huge reduction in the cost of the technology.

That's $3 billion, total - not annually.

A landmark 2007 MIT study The Future of Geothermal Energy similarly concluded that for investments totally less than a half a billion dollars annually, advanced geothermal energy technologies could provide cost-competitive, carbon-free, baseload energy to rival coal. Compare this number with the $38 billion spent by the US government (dwarfed by the industry's own spending) on fossil fuel R&D between 1974 and 2005.

The authors of this paper also plot fossil fuel technologies onto S-curves. The data show overwhelmingly that fossil fuel technologies have reached the top of their curves. That is, having reached the limit of achievable cost savings, the marginal price on fossil fuels is almost entirely driven by market fluctuations - not innovation - making further R&D investments a far less effective use of funding than investments in less mature but potentially breakthrough technologies like advanced geothermal.

Given the need for non-emitting energy that is fast, clean, and cheap, and the poor return that we're getting on our annual fossil fuel investments, isn't it time to move our government's money to technologies with more promise?

Read more!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Will America Lose the Clean Energy Race?

“Will America lose the clean-energy race?”

That’s the question my Breakthrough Institute colleague Teryn Norris and I raise in an op ed featured in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

You can also read an extended version at the Huffington Post.

With China, South Korea and Japan all moving aggressively to corner the burgeoning global clean energy market, Asian competitors may dominate the clean energy sector if Congress doesn’t act now to strengthen the Waxman-Markey bill with much larger investments in our own clean energy economy and fully support President Obama’s energy education initiative, Teryn and I argue.

Last week, over 100 organizations joined the Breakthrough Institute in urging the Senate to fund Obama’s RE-ENERGYSE initiative, which would develop thousands of highly-skilled clean energy workers and new energy education programs around the country. The Senate is poised to cut the program to $0 from Obama’s $115 million request at a time with the U.S. is severely lagging in energy science and technology education.

Read the RE-ENERGYSE letter press release and the New York Times Dot Earth coverage.

Monday’s op-ed comes one year after Breakthrough proposed a similar National Energy Education Act, calling for an effort on par with the original National Defense Education Act of 1958, which invested billions each year to train and empower the young generation that won the space race and invented the technologies that catapulted the U.S. and the world into the Information Age.

It also comes two weeks after the Washington Post reported that “Asian Nations Could Outpace U.S. in Developing Clean Energy.”

Breakthrough Institute is planning to release a full report on the USA-Asia clean energy race within the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

As President Obama put it in his Congressional address in February:

“We know the country that harnesses the power of clean, renewable energy will lead the 21st century. And yet it is China that has launched the largest effort in history to make their economy energy efficient… New plug-in hybrids roll off our assembly lines, but they will run on batteries made in Korea. Well I do not accept a future where the jobs and industries of tomorrow take root beyond our borders -- and I know you don’t either. It is time for America to lead again.”
President Obama is right. However, as Teryn and I warn in today’s op ed:
“If America does not take immediate action to bridge its energy education gap - and if we fail to make substantially larger investments in our own clean-energy economy - we will effectively cede the clean-energy race to Asia. A decade from now, we may still find the burgeoning clean-energy economy promised by Obama and Democratic leaders. It will simply be headquartered in China.”
You can read the extended version of the op ed below...

"Will America lose the clean-energy race?"

This is an expanded version of an op-ed originally published in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 27, 2009, by Teryn Norris and Jesse Jenkins .

Forty years ago last week, the Apollo 11 mission touched down on the surface of the moon, and the U.S. won the space race. As we celebrate this historic moment, we are reminded that today America faces a new global competition that will have far greater implications for the future of our nation and the world: the clean energy race.

While Congress debates climate and energy legislation, Asian challengers are moving rapidly to win the clean energy race. China alone is reportedly investing $440-660 billion in its clean energy industries over 10 years. South Korea is investing a full two percent of its GDP in a "Green New Deal" to expand their share in cleantech markets. And Japan is redoubling direct incentives for solar power, aiming for a 20-fold expansion in installed solar energy by 2020.

In contrast, the United States would invest only about $1.2 billion annually in energy research and development and roughly $10 billion in the clean energy sector as a whole under the Waxman-Markey bill -- less than 0.1 percent of U.S. GDP. This funding level is so low that a group of 34 Nobel Laureates recently submitted a letter to President Obama decrying the lack of investment and calling on the president to uphold his promise to invest $15 billion annually in clean energy R&D -- fifteen times the current level in Waxman-Markey.

The U.S. is not only investing far less in our clean energy industries than Asian nations, but also falling behind in energy science and technology education. Only 15 percent of undergraduate degrees earned in the U.S. each year are in science, technology, math, and engineering (STEM) areas compared to 50 percent in China, according to the National Science Foundation -- all at a time when nearly half of our current energy workforce is expected to retire over the next decade.

This spring, the Obama administration proposed an initiative designed to bridge this dangerous energy education gap by inspiring and educating thousands of young Americans to pursue careers in clean energy. The program, called RE-ENERGYSE (REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge), would fund new undergraduate and graduate energy curriculum and train up to 8,500 highly educated young scientists and engineers in the clean energy field by 2015 alone. Technical training and K-12 funding would support hundreds of programs nationwide to train thousands more technically skilled clean energy workers.

As President Obama announced in April, "The nation that leads the world in 21st century clean energy will be the nation that leads in the 21st century global economy... [RE-ENERGYSE] will prepare a generation of Americans to meet this generational challenge."

Unfortunately, the U.S. Senate and House recently rejected the Obama administration's energy education proposal, with the Senate cutting the program from $115 million to $0 and the House appropriating only $7 million.

If the U.S. had responded to the Soviet launch of Sputnik the way today's Congress is responding to the Asian energy challenge, America would not only have lost the space race, we would have been left behind in the technologies and industries that fueled a half-century of economic progress.

Indeed, the U.S. simply could not have won the space race without major federal investments in targeted education programs. Spurred on by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958, committing billions of dollars to equip a generation to confront the Soviet challenge. These investments developed the human capital necessary to put a man on the moon and invent the technologies that catapulted our world into the Information Age, from microchips and telecommunications to personal computing and the Internet.

Last week, a group of over 100 universities, student groups, and professional associations submitted a letter to each member of the Senate urging full support of RE-ENERGYSE. "America is in danger of losing its global competitiveness and the clean energy race without substantial new investments in science, technology, math, and engineering education," they wrote. "RE-ENERGYSE... will train America's future energy workforce, accelerate our transition to a prosperous clean energy economy, and ensure that we lead the world's burgeoning clean technology industries."

To win today's clean-energy race, the United States must respond with the same vigorous commitment to education and innovation that won the space race four decades ago. Congress should begin by strengthening RE-ENERGYSE to the full $115 million requested and pass energy legislation that invests $30 billion to $50 billion annually in low-carbon energy, including the $15 billion in energy R&D called for by our nation's top scientists.

If America does not take immediate action to bridge its energy education gap -- and if we fail to make substantially larger investments in our own clean energy economy -- we will effectively cede the clean energy race to Asia. Forty years from today, we may still find the burgeoning clean energy economy promised by President Obama and Democratic leaders. It will simply be headquartered in China.

Teryn Norris and Jesse Jenkins are Project Director and Director of Energy & Climate Policy at the Breakthrough Institute. They are co-authors of the National Energy Education Act proposal.

More resources:

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Clinton's Big Decision on Tar Sands

Secretary Clinton’s pen could prevent a new pipeline that would suck filthy tar-sands into the US. This morning, the Avaaz Action Factory in DC showed the State Department just how terrible the oil sands are, and how much of a climate hero Clinton can be.

During the DC morning rush hour activists with the Avaaz Action Factory headed to the State Department equipped with a kiddie pool of tar sands mixture, and a big banner stating: “Clinton be a Leader. Say No to Tar Sands, Stop Global Warming.” About 1000 State Department employees walked by a battle between Super Climate Clinton and the Tar Sands Monster on their way to work.
Action Factory members constructed a Boreal forest on the sidewalk in front of the State Department. There, the heartless corporate executives plotted to exploit US and Canadian dependence on oil by promoting tar sands extraction. The Tar Sands Monster, encouraged by the executives, awoke and dragged the oil-addicted US and Canada down into the dirty tar sand pit, pulling the rest of the world with them!


The world's only hope was Super Climate Clinton who faced a big decision: Should she rescue the countries trapped by the Tar Sands Monster? Or should she give in to the sleazy oil executives and approve an oil pipeline that would extend the U.S.’s dependence on dirty fossil fuels for decades to come?

Executives from Shell Oil and the Royal Bank of Canada, the largest financier of oil sands extraction, distracted and mislead Super Climate Clinton, knowing that if she examined the situation she wouldn't approve. But Clinton heard the loud calls for help from the United States, Canada, and Mother Earth. Once Clinton actually looked and saw the filthy destruction in the Boreal forests, she rescued the trapped countries, beat the dirty Tar Sands monster back and chased away the corporate executives.

Secretary Clinton has the power to stop a major expansion of dirty oil production, but she needs to act quickly. The Obama campaign has promised a transformative switch to a clean energy economy, but his administration's actions on mountain top removal coal mining and oil sands expansion have yet to live up to his word.

Furthermore, Secretary Clinton just returned from a highly publicized trip to India where the media reported that she ‘clashed’ with the developing nation over an agreement on reducing emissions. Denying this pipeline is a big opportunity for Clinton to come back from this blow and make crucial call to prevent expansion of oil sands extraction.

Clinton hopefully got our message, but she'll definitely get it if you join us in taking action:

What you can do:
Call the US State Department at (202) 647-4000 and ask for Secretary Clinton’s representative and ask her to turn down the Clipper Pipeline and say no to dirty energy expansion.

Then post to your facebook wall or tweet: I just called Clinton asking her to stop prevent a dirty #oilsands pipeline into the US. (link)


Today's action is part of a much larger effort involving the Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club and many more groups fighting to stop tar sands extraction.

From DirtyOilSands.org:

  • Oil Sands projects are the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas pollution in Canada.
  • Production of oil from tar sands bitumen produces between 3 and 5 times the greenhouse gas pollution of conventional oil production.

There has been a push to get off ‘foreign oil’ and stop sending money to the middle east. Whether you consider Canadian oil to be foreign or not (obviously it is), these discussions miss the point: Oil causes climate change, and we need to stop developing new sources of oil, new infrastructure for oil and instead focus on climate change solutions.

That’s why this pipeline is critical. A major piece of infrastructure will make it that much harder to phase out the use of dirty fossil fuels, which is one of the reasons the backers of this project are pushing so hard to get this through without even a public debate.

Clipper Pipeline

Enbridge wants to build a 1,000-mile pipeline to transport crude oil from the Alberta Oil Sands to Superior, Wisconsin. The 36-inch Alberta Clipper Pipeline would carry up to 450,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Hardisty, Alberta (Canada) to refineries in the United States — primarily in the Midwest.

Graphic: Minnesota Public Radio/Enbridge.

In the United States, the Alberta Clipper Pipeline would extend 326 miles from the U.S.-Canadian border near Neche, North Dakota across northern Minnesota to an Enbridge terminal in Superior, Wisconsin.
For more information on action to stop oil sands, check out DirtyOilSands.org and the Indigenous Environmental Network http://www.ienearth.org/
For more information about the Avaaz Action Factory, check out www.actionfactories.org

By Morgan Goodwin and Heather Kangas, Action Factory DC. Photos by Christine Irvine

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RE-ENERGYSE a New Generation of Clean Energy Innovators

Originally posted at SolveClimate.com

Forty years ago this week, the Apollo 11 mission touched down on the surface of the moon, and the U.S. won the space race. As we celebrate this historic moment, we are reminded that today America faces a new global competition that will have far greater implications for the future of our nation and the world: the clean energy race.

Unfortunately, instead of summoning the same vigorous commitment to innovation and education that won the space race four decades ago, Congress today is poised to reject a critical initiative to invest in the generation of young engineers, scientists and innovations who must win the clean energy race.

The U.S. simply could not have won the space race without major federal investments in targeted education programs.

Spurred on by the Soviet launch of Sputnik, Congress quickly passed the National Defense Education Act in 1958, committing billions of dollars to equip a generation to confront the Soviet challenge. These investments developed the human capital necessary to put a man on the moon and invent the technologies that catapulted our world into the Information Age, from microchips and telecommunications to personal computing and the Internet.

Today, the U.S. is again dangerously behind in energy science and technology education.

Only 15 percent of undergraduate degrees earned in the U.S. each year are in science and engineering compared to 50 percent in China, according to National Academies. This comes at a time when nearly half of our current energy workforce is expected to retire over the next decade, and several Asian nations are moving aggressively to corner the burgeoning global clean energy market.

This spring, the Obama administration proposed an initiative designed to bridge this dangerous energy education gap by inspiring and educating thousands of young Americans to pursue careers in clean energy.

The program, called RE-ENERGYSE (REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge), would fund new undergraduate and graduate energy curriculum and research opportunities to prepare up to 8,500 highly educated young scientists and engineers to enter clean energy fields by 2015 alone. Technical training and K12 funding would support hundreds of programs nationwide to train thousands more technically skilled clean energy workers.

As President Obama announced in April,

“The nation that leads the world in 21st century clean energy will be the nation that leads in the 21st century global economy. … [RE-ENERGYSE] will prepare a generation of Americans to meet this generational challenge.”

Unfortunately, the Senate and House Appropriations Committees recently rejected the Obama administration’s energy education proposal, with the Senate cutting the program from $115 million to $0 and the House appropriating only $7 million.

The U.S. neglects investments in energy education at our peril.

As my colleague Teryn Norris, Director of Breakthrough Generation and a junior at Stanford University, declared,

“If the U.S. had responded to the Soviet launch of Sputnik the way Congress is responding to today's national energy challenge America would not only have lost the space race, we would have been left behind in the technologies and industries that fueled a half-century of economic progress.”

Seeing Congress dangerously close to rejecting President Obama’s RE-ENERGYSE initiative, the Breakthrough Institute partnered with the Association of American Universities to rally supporters for this critical investment in our nation’s economic and environmental future.

This week, a group of over 100 universities, student groups, clean energy advocates and professional associations submitted a letter to each member of the Senate urging full support of RE-ENERGYSE.

“America is in danger of losing its global competitiveness and the clean energy race without substantial new investments in science, technology, math, and engineering education,” they wrote. “RE-ENERGYSE … will train America’s future energy workforce, accelerate our transition to a prosperous clean energy economy, and ensure that we lead the world’s burgeoning clean technology industries.”

"Young people across America need Congress to act today and help prepare our generation to confront the nation's energy challenges," said Jessy Tolkan, Executive Director of the Energy Action Coalition, a coalition of 50 youth organizations and a supporter of the RE-ENERGYSE program.

Marc Perkins, President of the Johns Hopkins University student government added:

“Students across the nation are passionate about studying and confronting our energy challenge, but the educational resources are nonexistent or critically underfunded."

Nineteen-year-old Kelsea Norris, a student at the University of Georgia and chair of the Sierra Student Coalition, echoed that sentiment:

"So many young people like me are willing to devote their time and energy to solving this energy crisis. What we need is the education and training to do it, but our high schools, colleges, and universities aren't offering that to us."

If America does not take immediate action to bridge its energy education gap — and if we fail to make substantially larger investments in our own clean energy economy — we will effectively cede the clean energy race to competitors abroad who are more aggressively investing in clean energy education, innovation and technology.

"The question our Congress faces today," said Norris, "is this: Will they invest in a new generation of American innovators to win the global clean energy race, or will they allow Asia to take the lead?"

Read more!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Japan Plans to Make Solar Energy Cheap


By Devon Swezey, originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

Motivated in part by its loss of dominance in the solar energy industry, Japan has recently announced a new national project for the widespread deployment of solar PV technologies in order to drive the price of solar energy toward that of conventional energy sources. In short, Japan plans to make solar energy cheap.

In a speech laying out the his strategy for Japan to lead the world in a "low carbon revolution", Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso announced his vision for Japan to be "the number one solar power in the world." He also recognized that the principle barrier to widespread adoption of
solar energy was its high price:

How do we become number one in the world in terms of solar power generation? In order to achieve this, we must put an end to the following vicious cycle: costs are high because of lack of demand, and demand remains stagnant due to high costs. Above all else, I think a strong political will to create 'demand through policies,' is necessary.

In order to cut this vicious cycle, Japan has proposed to make solar energy cheap through a combination of energy innovation and government policies to spur demand-a straightforward and effective approach to drive both economies of scale and potentially transformative innovation. Prime Minister Aso has set a goal of increasing installed solar capacity by 20 times its current level by 2020, and 40 times by 2030.

The government is investing $30 billion over 5 years in energy research and development in order to develop new, innovative technologies and to improve existing technologies over the short-term. This includes using new materials and structures that may significantly improve solar cell efficiencies, with a goal of improving generating efficiency by over 40 percent and achieving a generating cost of only ¥7/kWh (7 cents/kWh) by 2030, close to the cost of conventional energy sources.

On the demand side, Japan will enact three particular policies that could substantially reduce the costs of solar energy by driving demand, which in turn gives private firms the confidence to capture economies of scale and invest their own funds in additional R&D and innovation. First, the government has reinstated a solar PV installation subsidy that it suspended in 2005, causing it to lose solar market dominance to Germany and Spain. The new subsidy of 70,000 ¥/kW ($749/kW) of equipment is expected to enlist 84,000 new applications for PV systems over the next year. Second, the government is providing a $980 million subsidy to deploy solar photovoltaic systems on the roofs of all 32,000 public elementary, junior high, and high schools nationwide by 2020. Lastly, the government has proposed a new feed-in tariff for solar electricity production that, if enacted, is expected to dramatically increase solar energy adoption. The "new purchasing system", announced by Prime Minister Aso, would require electric companies to purchase solar power at about twice the current (voluntary) price, or close to ¥50/kWh (50 cents/kWh). The feed-in tariff will likely be designed to gradually decrease as the cost of PV systems falls, in order to provide pressure for continued private sector innovation and cost reductions.

As the U.S. Congress debates cap and trade legislation to slightly increase the price of fossil fuel energy, the government of Japan has focused its efforts, as energy experts have argued is necessary, on making solar energy cheaper, in real, absolute terms.

Japan's ambitious plans for solar energy are yet another indication that without a more vigorous commitment to innovation and direct investment in clean energy deployment, the U.S. may lose the clean energy race to its East Asian competitors, as the Breakthrough Institute and others have recently warned.

Read more!

40th Anniversary of the Moon Landing - Lessons for the Clean Energy Race

By Leigh Ewbank, originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong's moonwalk, the event which made the US the first and only nation to accomplish one of the greatest technological feats in human history. While space-race aficionados will argue that US-Soviet competition continued beyond the 1969 moon landing, for the layperson, Armstrong's 'small step' marked the end of the space race.

In 2009, the United States faces a new global competition, one that will have far greater implications for the future of our nation and the world: the clean energy race

The dual challenges of climate change and increased economic competitiveness are driving nations to develop new energy technologies that harness earth's abundant renewable resources. This technology is increasingly viewed as central to our economic fortunes with renewable energy and other clean technologies poised to be the next big growth sector. On several occasions President Obama has acknowledged that:

'The nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.'
We've heard calls for a New Apollo project for renewable energy before, and I will not discuss the merits of such a scheme here. Instead, on this historic anniversary, I will compare the space race
of the Cold War era and the clean energy race of today--both similarities and differences are apparent, and both offer insights into America's current standing in today's clean energy race.


Differences

Unlike the space race, which was a competition between the world's two superpowers, the renewable energy race features several nations who quietly compete for the renewable energy technology edge. While it was arguably the US started the energy race in the 1970s when President Jimmy Carter implemented renewable energy research programs to deal with the oil shocks of the 1970s, nations with foresight have managed to position themselves at the head of the pack--and the US.

The US faces stiff competition from multiple nations, including:

China - In recent years China has established a strong foothold in manufacturing solar PV cells and wind turbines. The nation is set to strengthen this position with a multi-billion dollar investment package for renewable energy. Estimated at $440-660 billion over the next ten years, the investment will be unprecedented, and has the potential to secure a dominant position in renewable energy markets for years, if not decades.

South Korea - South Korea is starting from a low level of installed renewable energy capacity, but this formidable Asian tiger seeks to change this with its recently announced $84 billion investment in green technologies, including renewable energy, over five years. South Korea's 'Green New Deal' aims to catapult the nation into the top seven 'green powers' by 2020, and top five by 2050. The nation has set the international benchmark for public investment as a proportion of GDP--investing 2 percent of its national wealth annually for the next five years.

Japan - Japan was one of the leading nations for solar PV production but has rapidly lost market share over the last five years. To address this decline Japan has announced the goal to double its solar energy capacity by 2020 and become world's number one solar nation. To achieve their ambitious targets, Japan is redoubling the direct incentives offered for solar energy and financing the deployment of solar energy on thousands of schools across the island nation.

The European Union - Europe's renewable energy powerhouse Germany is a market leader in both wind turbine and solar PV technology. A combination of highly skilled workforce and successful feed-in-tariff policies has allowed the German renewable energy industry take root and provide a platform for clean energy exports. Denmark leadership in wind reinforces the European Union's clean energy capabilities, while Spain is a world leader in solar thermal electricity technologies. Denmark's Vestas Corporation is currently the world leader in wind energy with 20 percent market share, and Spain is home to numerous solar energy companies and the world's leading wind power developer, Iberdrola Renewables.


Similarities

The obvious parallel between the space race and clean energy race is the type of national focus and investment required to achieve ambitious technological goals. US investment in renewable energy R&D peaked in the late 1970s under the Carter Administration and has steadily declined since. As the Federation of American Scientists noted last week:
'Federal energy research in new energy technologies declined from 1980 to 2007 by more than 50 percent in real dollars, and corporate energy research has also declined significantly.'
Like the space race, the renewable energy race will require comparable national focus and effort, and a substantial sustained investment.

The Breakthrough Institute and President Obama have called for annual investment of $15 billion in clean energy R&D, sustained over at least a decade. The Brookings Institution, and top energy scientists recommend public investment of between $20-30 billion per year to ensure the development of breakthrough energy technology in the US. Even larger investments are needed to spur the deployment of clean energy, creating the strong demand that drives further innovation and price reductions.

Unfortunately, the United States will likely invest about $1 billion annually in clean energy R&D and roughly $10 billion in the clean energy sector as a whole, if the Waxman-Markey climate and energy bill passed by the House of Representatives in June becomes law. That level of clean energy investment simply does not measure up next to the $44-66 billion per year the Chinese are expected to commit to the clean energy race, nor the investments energy experts recommend. That level of clean energy spending is even dwarfed by NASA's $18.6 billion 2010 budget - forty years after the peak of the space race.

Some will cite the green stimulus measures of the Recovery and Reinvestment Act 2009 as enough to jump-start the domestic renewable energy industry. While the clean energy investments in the stimulus do indeed represent a great starting point, the stimulus must be followed by sustained public investment in clean energy, not the cuts in spending Waxman-Markey would codify. JFK didn't just put down a one-off payment on the mission to the moon and follow it up with market-based incentives to spur private sector lunar missions. The Kennedy and Johnson Administrations directly invested billions of dollars each year, and sustained these investments until the job was done. Around $200 billion (in 2007 dollars)--$20 billion per year--was invested in the national space program during the 1960s. To win today's clean energy race, the U.S. must respond with the same vigorous commitment to technology and innovation that won the space race four decades ago.


Waxman-Markey

In recent opinion pieces, co-sponsors of the ACES bill Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) used the anniversary of the moon landing to rally support for their bill. They claim that the provisions contained in ACES present the best way for the US to win the clean energy race. While both Waxman and Markey correctly acknowledge the efforts of China and South Korea as clean energy competitors and note America's laggard position, they overstate the amount of revenue ACES will direct to clean energy. And both fail to mention that the bulk of the revenue generated will be directed to incumbent energy sources, not to winning the clean energy race. Furthermore, by associating ACES with the Apollo model of public investment, Waxman and Markey conceal the fact that the ability of market-based cap-and-trade schemes to deliver the type of technology innovation required is without historical precedent.


Will the US rise to the challenge?

So, will the US rise to the clean energy challenge? Some analysts like Michael Lind and TNR's Franklin Foer and Noam Scheiber would lead us to believe that President Obama is unlikely to act as boldly as JFK and LBJ. However, I think it's too early to tell whether he will or not. One thing is clear: Obama, with his remarkable communications skills and network of progressive Americans, has a great platform for launching an Apollo-like initiative for the 21st century. Putting America back on track with clean energy will start with a 'giant leap' in public investment.

Read more!