Shaping an Uncertain Future

RE Outlook 2003 – Ever since the 1970s, the Renewable Energy industry and Renewable Energy supporters have been on a roller coaster. Back in the 1970s during the oil crisis, a transition to Renewable Energy seemed imminent.

RE Outlook 2003 – January 20, 2003 – Ever since the 1970s, the Renewable Energy industry and Renewable Energy supporters have been on a roller coaster. Back in the 1970s during the oil crisis, a transition to Renewable Energy seemed imminent. Then in the early 1980s, with a sharp decline in oil prices and the anti-environmental attitudes of the Reagan Administration, the bottom fell out of the renewables industry. Things again looked up at the end of the 1980s and beginning of the 1990s. But the high hopes were not realized and the renewables industry moved forward through the 1990s at a slower pace than had seemed possible at the beginning of the decade. Over the past few years, Renewable Energy development has once again picked up, despite only limited support from the federal government. The improving economics of technologies like wind and important efforts by various state clean energy funds have helped accelerate the pace of development. However, the roller coaster history of the past few decades suggests how difficult it is to predict what will happen during the coming year. Among the key uncertainties: whether oil and natural gas prices will rise; whether severe budget problems will prompt state legislatures and governors to divert money from state clean energy funds; whether a war with Iraq or a changing political climate will induce leaders of either national political party to push for the development of clean, domestic energy sources and whether companies announce dramatic breakthroughs in fuel cell or PV technology. Even though we can’t predict the future, we can try to shape it. In the coming year, Renewable Energy advocates need to give special attention to protecting support for renewables in those states with clean energy funds and renewable portfolio standards. More generally, we should more vigorously tackle the persistent perception on the part of most policymakers and members of the public that Renewable Energy cannot work on a large scale. To do this, we should do whatever we can to bring specific Renewable Energy projects on line quickly. We must also do a much better job of publicizing and promoting the successful Renewable Energy projects that are already out there or that will come on line in the coming year. If policymakers and the public see a critical mass of successful solar buildings, wind turbines, and biomass facilities, they will become more enthusiastic about Renewable Energy and the momentum behind it will increase. About the Author: Warren Leon is executive director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association the leading regional membership organization focused on clean electricity, green transportation, and healthy, efficient buildings. He can be reached at wleon@nesea.org

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