The World's #1 Renewable Energy Network for News, Information, and Companies.
Untitled Document

When Did Progress Become a Partisan Issue?

Political debate over the direction of United States energy and technology policy is obviously nothing new. But in recent weeks, two news items jumped out for me from the usual political cacophony:

News item 1: Republicans introduce bills in the House and Senate to repeal the 2007 federal law requiring 25-30 percent more energy-efficient light bulbs starting next year. Republicans in four state legislatures also offer bills to exempt their states from the mandate.

News item 2: As the new majority in the House,  Republicans have replaced the House cafeteria’s compostable cutlery and cups, introduced under ex-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Green the Capitol initiative, with the previously used plastic and polystyrene versions.

It’s one thing to disagree about tax incentives for the wind and solar industries, subsidies for the extraction of fossil fuels, the future role of nuclear power, the strictness of building efficiency standards, or countless other issues that will determine our energy future. But it seems like quite another thing to actually turn back the clock on progress already made.

“It’s just symbolism, but symbolism of the worst kind,” says Alan Salzman, CEO and managing director of clean-tech funder Vantage Point Venture Partners, of the compostable cutlery replacement. “While they’re at it, why don’t they put a nuclear plant in the basement?” One Congressman, Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, was equally sarcastic with a Tweet: “I can hardly wait for the lead paint.”

What exactly is going on here?

In President Obama’s State of the Union address in January, he spoke of the U.S. need to “win the future” by stepping up our investments in education and technology R&D, including clean-energy technologies. Let’s see—America embracing the leading edge of innovation, leading the world in new technologies, as we’ve done in so many other tech revolutions throughout history—can any politician really be against this?

Apparently so.

Take the humble light bulb. Yes, the good old incandescent bulb is a venerable icon of Yankee ingenuity – the transformative product of one legendary American’s forward-thinking vision and above all, hard work. (It was Thomas Edison who famously said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”). The incandescent bulb was perfected by Edison (the concept had been around for 50 years already) in 1879. Isn’t it time to move on?

Former President George W. Bush seemed to think so when he signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 into law, after it had overwhelmingly passed both houses of Congress with bipartisan support. That law included new efficiency standards for light bulbs as well as transportation and buildings, training programs for green jobs, funding for smart-grid initiatives, and many other measures. Contrary to the oppositional rhetoric now being thrown around, the law does not “ban” incandescent bulbs—it sets new efficiency standards that are easier to meet with newer compact fluorescent light (CFL) or especially light-emitting diode (LED) technologies.

That’s how you win the future – establish a policy goal for the common good, then let innovators, entrepreneurs, and investors fight it out to create the best, most cost-effective products to win in the marketplace. LED lighting, one of the five top trends spotlighted by Clean Edge in our Clean Energy Trends 2011 report released last month, is now a red-hot industry sector. Vantage Point alone has five LED-related startups in its portfolio: Bridgelux, Huga Optotech, glo AB, Light-Based Technologies, and a stealth company currently called Superbulbs.

But, cry opponents, Americans don’t want to be told what kind of light bulbs to buy. Well, the market has already rendered its verdict here. More than 70 percent of Americans have replaced at least one incandescent bulb with a CFL or LED, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll in February, and 84 percent say they are satisfied or very satisfied with the results. Walmart and Sam’s Club have sold more than 350 million CFL bulbs—somehow, I don’t think all the buyers are climate-change activists. In the USA Today/Gallup poll, 61 percent of Americans say the 2007 law is good, while just 31 percent say it’s bad. And light-bulb manufacturers overwhelmingly support it, too.

Some may point out that we’ve seen the ‘turn back the clock on progress’ theme before, citing President Ronald Reagan’s decision to remove Jimmy Carter’s solar PV panels (recently restored by Obama, after much public pressure) from the White House roof. But historical research shows that this story did not quite happen the way it’s usually told—that Reagan came into office in 1981 and ordered the removal as one of his first official acts.

The Reagan White House actually received solar power for more than five years; the panels were removed for roof maintenance in 1986 and not replaced—without any fanfare or making of political hay. Not to excuse the move, but at the time, the price of oil was below $10 a barrel ($20 in today’s dollars), climate change was an obscure scientific theory, and China didn’t have a more than 50 percent share of the global solar PV manufacturing industry (or much of a market for anything). The world is very different in 2011, and embracing progress should be more important, and less controversial, than ever. Especially with the U.S. now officially slipping to third in the global clean-energy market behind China and Germany, according to a new report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In the end, I think, it’s all about framing the issues. To borrow some favorite symbols of the anti-progress movement—if you ask people whether they believe in a ‘nanny state’ that makes all your choices for you, or whether they’re willing to sacrifice convenience or pay higher prices, they’ll say no. But ask about saving energy, encouraging innovation, and creating American jobs in the industries that will define global competitiveness in the 21st century, and you’ll surely get a different response.

I know that the anti-progress naysayers have their reasons and motivations, and that partisan politics can always yield some bizarre results. But who really benefits from moving the nation backwards? Are the incandescent light bulb and plastic fork industries really critical to our future? “One of our favorite phrases at Vantage Point,” says Salzman, “is ‘invest in the inevitable.’ Does anyone think that fossil-based resources will get less expensive over time? Or that your grandson or granddaughter won’t be driving an electric car, powered by a smart grid? I want us to lead in the 21st century industries, not the 20th or 19th century ones.”

Why is it so hard for some people to agree with that?

Wilder is Clean Edge's senior editor, co-author of The Clean Tech Revolution, and a blogger about clean-tech issues for the Green section of The Huffington Post. E-mail him at wilder@cleanedge.com and follow him on Twitter at Clint_Wilder.

 

Untitled Document

RELATED ARTICLES

Sunrise in Pakistan as the Country Delves into Solar PV

Robert Harker Pakistan has joined the list of countries that are exploring solar power as a means to bridge critical energy generat...

Global Renewable Energy Roundup: China, Kenya, Turkey, India Seeking More Renewables

Bloomberg News Editors China is being encouraged by three industry groups to double the nation’s solar-power goal for 2020 to make up for sh...

Why Smarter Grids Demand Smarter Communications Networks

Mark Madden

Historically, utility networks and communications networks have had little in common.

The Importance of “Switching Costs” to the US Residential Solar Industry

Paula Mints The DoE and numerous organizations and governments globally are focused on driving down the cost of solar convinced t...

PRESS RELEASES

Array Technologies’ DuraTrack HZ v3 Continues to (R)evolutionize at SPI

Array Technologies, Inc. (ATI) prepares to showcase its recently launched tracking syst...

Appalachian's Energy Center assists counties with landfill gas to energy projects

The Appalachian Energy Center at Appalachian State University recently completed a proj...

Early Bird Registration Deadline for GRC Annual Meeting is This Week

The deadline for early-bird rates for registration for the biggest annual geothermal ev...

Redesigned HydroWorld.com Video Gallery

Hydropower news and information, and interesting promotional announcements are now avai...

FEATURED BLOGS

Transitioning to Net-Zero Living

Judith and Jeffrey adore living in Belfast, Maine – a quaint harbor town of Belfast, Maine. They previously res...

The True Cost of Electric Vehicles in Australia

In order to avoid increased congestion, further greenhouse warming and lessen Australia’s reliance on imported ...

The Coming Multi-trillion Dollar Energy Investment Drive

In coming years, a multi-trillion dollar low-emission energy investment drive will get underway. Three catalysts wil...

The Perfect Elevator Pitch

The elevator pitch is a concise statement that grabs attention and communicates value, ideally leading to a next step...

FINANCIAL NEWS

CURRENT MAGAZINE ISSUE

Volume 18, Issue 4
1507REW_C11

STAY CONNECTED

To register for our free
e-Newsletters, subscribe today:

SOCIAL ACTIVITY

Tweet the Editors! @jennrunyon

FEATURED PARTNERS



EVENTS

Doing Business in South Africa – in partnership with GWEC, the Glob...

Wind Energy in South Africa has been expanding dramatically, growing fro...

Intersolar India 2015

Exhibition and Conference: November 18-20, 2015 Intersolar India 2015 I...

Intersolar North America 2016

Exhibition: July 12 - 14, 2016; Conference: July 11 - 13, 2016 Intersola...

COMPANY BLOGS

Less Is More

When you’re giving a presentation, one of the easiest things to do...

Captivology

One of the biggest challenges we face as efficiency sales professionals ...

How To Optimize Your Meeting Schedule

Do you spend more time in meetings than you do actually working? While m...

NEWSLETTERS

Renewable Energy: Subscribe Now

Solar Energy: Subscribe Now

Wind Energy: Subscribe Now

Geothermal Energy: Subscribe Now

Bioenergy: Subscribe Now  

 

FEATURED PARTNERS