Can Renewables Stay Non-Partisan?

In renewable energy, as in everything else, we tend to focus on our own problems, and on today’s news. We worry about profitability, about competition, and we feel guilty looking to government for any kind of hand-up.

This focus can lead us to ignore alternatives to alternative fuels, even have us sit passively while legislators dismantle policies favoring them, as is now happening in four state legislatures and in Washington itself.

H.R. 1 would effectively eliminate the Department of Energy’s loan guarantee program for solar projects, a program that provides a back-stop to private loans. So far $18 billions in loans have been backed.

There’s more. The new House Energy and Commerce Committee, under Michigan Republican Fred Upton, is trying to strip the EPA of all authority to even fight greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Most voters oppose this, even in Upton’s own district.

Hard to believe but there are legislators who want to kill one of the few industries in America that is a net exporter, and that is growing fast.

At times like this we may need more than a growth argument. We need to retrieve what went down the memory hole and remind legislators, and their voters, what the alternative to alternative energy is.

Take, for example, Deepwater Horizon.  It was less than a year ago.

  • Wells just 10 miles from that site have been leaking since 2004.

  • The University of Georgia has a study out this week showing that 500,000 tons of gas was also released in the spill, along with all that oil, resulting in “extensive and persistent depletion of oxygen” in the Gulf.

  • Two commissioners appointed to study the spill told Congress Friday an overhaul of drilling regulations is still needed but new drilling permits are about to be issued. Get the rigs warmed up, writes the Houston Chronicle.

Or take coal. The explosion at Massey Energy’s coal mine in West Virginia that killed 29 people was also less than a year ago.  It has gone so far down the memory hole that people are suing over the company’s sale, claiming the price is too low.

The move to a renewable future, one without accidents like this, should be bipartisan. Yet some legislators will actually have the nerve over the next few months to call digging coal a mile under the Earth “good jobs.”

This is what I call caveman talk. It’s not about Republican or Democratic. It’s about the difference between looking for stuff to burn and harvesting the energy that’s all around us.

Those of us in renewable energy need to pull the recent news out of the memory hole and bring it to those legislative chambers. Put those deaths and that destruction on some legislative desks, and get it into the districts of those looking for a short-term fix of “lower prices” or “market solutions.” (Especially when those same people are still supporting tax breaks for oil, gas and coal.)

We still have public opinion at our back. Let’s use it.

It’s going to be a tough fight. We’re not only fighting an anti-environmental backlash but the reality of deficits that runs into everyone’s call for help. When Ohio Gov. John Kasich was running last year, he at first opposed renewable energy, but switched in time to win.

It would be a shame if this industry has to go into a partisan fight. I know lots of people in the renewable energy business who are good Republicans. But those businesspeople have to turn people around, as Kasich was turned, or there will be no alternative.

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Dana Blankenhorn has covered business and technology since 1978. He covered the Houston oil boom of the 1970s, began making his living online in 1985, and launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of e-commerce, in 1994. He has written for a host of off-line and online publications including The Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age, and ZDNet. He has covered PCs, networks, telecommunications, cable technology, Internet commerce, the Internet of Things, Open Source and Health IT, He began covering alternative energy at his personal blog, Danablankenhorn.com, in 2007.

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