Groundwork Laid for Improved U.S. Renewable Energy Policy

After listening to nearly 50 highly qualified renewable energy professionals and legislators give presentations for the last two days here in the nation’s capitol at the American Council on Renewable Energy’s (ACORE) Phase II Policy Conference, the “take-aways” are plentiful.

Yet with interest in energy security issues and escalating gasoline prices running high in America and likewise among the conference’s 350+ attendees, ethanol seemed to capture the attendees’ imagination and was unofficially anointed the next big thing. While ethanol’s technology is well on its way and in use as a blend for gasoline, though far from the perfect, it is clear that to make the “switch” faster away from fossil fuels these leaders see new ethanol-related policy decisions on the horizon. Not the least of which is to demand that all new autos and trucks be fitted with “flex fuel” capabilities. According to Vinod Khosla, venture capitalist presenter and co-founder of Daisy Systems and founding Chief Executive Officer of Sun Microsystems, there are already 4 to 5 million flex fuel-configured vehicles on the road today in the U.S. Yet most drivers do not even know their vehicles are so configured because the manufacturers did not inform these consumers, says Khosla, the business-minded investor and now a staunch ethanol proponent. Should “flex fuel” capability come as a technology directive through federal legislation, according to Khosla and others, it would be at no extra cost and the benefits would be plentiful for the consumer including the opportunity to lower operating costs — and at the same time usher in nothing less than the beginning of the end for transportation fossil fuels. Ethanol use, in its many blended forms, is already underway here in the U.S., most notably in the corn-belt of the Midwest, and to a larger degree elsewhere in the world, especially in Brazil, where the price per gallon, according to Khosla, is exported for $0.75/gallon. Another big take-away was a greater feeling of true bipartisanship on energy issues and policies pertaining to renewable energy, and its close cousin, energy efficiency. Cabinet Secretaries Mike Johanns of Agriculture and Gale Norton of the Interior addressed the conference, expressing their personal interest and support for renewable energy, and even listed President George Bush as a supporter of renewable energy. The ACORE event is co-sponsored with the U.S. Senate and House Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus thus helping to attract Congressmen from both sides of the aisle. Speaking to confirm their commitment to accelerating the use of renewable energy as one of the solutions to help solve the nation’s energy crisis, Senator Wayne Allard (R-CO), Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), Mark Udall (D-CO), Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) and several others were on hand throughout the two days and also for evening reception events held at the Republicans’ Capitol Hill Club. Another technology ranking consistently high on the applause-o-meter was hydrogen energy, but the applause was to signal a confirming disapproval from the audience. When not presented in the positive or attacked as wasteful spending, many attendees in the audience applauded to express their displeasure with the current administration’s hydrogen policies. Shining in his keynote address to the conference and signaling the growing importance of states in development of energy policy and implementation, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle, perhaps garnered the biggest applause approval by saying, “When it comes to our energy future, we should rely on the Midwest, and not the Middle East.” The Renewable Energy in America: Policies for Phase ll conference was designed to identify policies on the state and federal level that will increase the use of renewable energy in the U.S. by facilitating the growth of domestic renewable energy, enhancing national security, creating new jobs and opportunities for economic growth, improving the environment and health, and reducing the risks associated with climate change.

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