An all-star cast of the leading voices in the new Obama era is convening at the Newseum in Washington DC to discuss the future of U.S. energy policy. The National Clean Energy Project follows a similar meeting convened by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) last summer in Nevada. But much has changed in the past few months. The new administration — including Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and White House energy adviser Carol Browner — have committed to a multibillion investment in a new clean energy grid with the economic recovery act signed into law last week by President Obama.
The live webcast of the event can be seen at NationalCleanEnergyProject.org.
Joe Romm is liveblogging the summit at ClimateProgress. The Wonk Room is liveblogging the summit below.
Former senator Tim Wirth of Colorado introduces the meeting.
10:30 PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON
Every time before in the last thirty years when I started this … every time oil dropped people said give my Hummer back. They’re not saying that any more. I want to thank everybody this economic recovery bill has good things in it and I’m grateful as a citizen. We have to maximize the value of this economic recovery. The big short-term gains in jobs and greenhouse gas reductions are in energy efficiency advances.
10:35 VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE
We really do have a planetary emergency. This sounds shrill to many ears. We’re still not used to thinking in those terms. We’ve seen the oil price roller coaster. This roller coaster’s headed for a crash and we’re in the front car.
10:45 HOUSE SPEAKER NANCY PELOSI
We have to hold together or we will all regret the missed opportunity.
10:55 T. BOONE PICKENS
Geothermal does not operate an eighteen-wheeler. Get realistic… I’m running out of time. But we are going to have an energy policy in America.
11:00 JOHN PODESTA, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS ACTION FUND
We have to recognize we’re living through a terrible recession, a dependence on fossil fuels, and the almost existential threat of global warming.
11:05 JOHN SWEENEY, AFL-CIO
The challenge of clean energy and global warming provide a unique opportunity to achieve two things at once. A new U.S. energy strategy can be the foundation of rebuilding the middle class.
11:10 HARRY REID
People are afraid the government is going to be involved. If we’re going to succeed, we’re going to have to accept that. Everyone should get off the kick that this won’t work unless the government is involved in it.
11:10 VAN JONES, GREEN FOR ALL
Let’s get our young people to put down hand guns and pick up caulking guns. Let’s make sure all young people can be on a pathway not just to a green job but a green career.
11:15 GLENN ENGLISH, NATIONAL RURAL ELECTRIC COOPERATIVE ASSOCIATION
Transmission is the key problem. Speed is of the essence. We’ve got to move very, very rapidly.
11:20 INTERIOR SECRETARY KEN SALAZAR
We didn’t get electricity out to our place in rural Colorado until 1981. I think, based on my work with Sen. Bingaman, Sen. Dorgan, we can do a lot more than what we’re doing with renewable energy. Unless we are able to solve the juggernaut of transmission we are going to be standing in place five to ten years from now.
11:25 SEN. BYRON DORGAN (D-ND), ENERGY & WATER APPROPRIATIONS SUBCOMMITTEE CHAIRMAN
We’re the Saudi Arabia of wind, but we also have stranded capability. There is an absolute requirement that we connect America. The keys are planning, siting, and pricing.
11:30 ENERGY SECRETARY STEVEN CHU
Siting problems are not technology problem, though it’s the biggest bottleneck. There is the technology of high-voltage DC transmission that the US is just starting to use, that can be much more efficient. We need to develop better mechanisms for stepping up the voltage and stepping down the voltage. We talk about the great wind resources and solar resources of the United States. But we have to recognize they are transient. Imagine a world of 35% renewable, going up and down. That’s a bigger problem. Somewhere in the United States, the wind will be blowing. We don’t have large-scale energy storage yet. We should look at hydro, compressed air storage.
The distribution system: We have photovoltaics on rooftops on buildings, warehouses, homes. We’re going to need a two-way distribution system. Our system today is roughly analogous to the water system. We now have the technology than can switch the electricity. The biggest bottleneck is that the industry has not developed a standard. It’s been stalled. I’ve begun to look into this. What we really need to do is lock these people in a room until they come out with a standard.
The Department of Energy has been entrusted with a lot of loan authority, and I’ve been looking very hard how to accelerate this loan authority, to reduce years down to months. I’m beginning to look at the details.
We need to move with a sense of urgency. All the news on climate in the past few years has been bad news. If we don’t act now our children and grandchildren will ask, what were these people thinking?
11:35 GOVERNOR GEORGE PATAKI
Transmission siting is a major problem. I think the federal government has to get involved. We need a federal permitting process. If it’s left to a state-by-state process, it’s going to come to nothing. This worked with natural gas pipelines.
11:40 ROBERT F. KENNEDY, JR.
As an environmental advocate, this is the most heartening morning I’ve ever seen.
11:45 REP. ED MARKEY (D-MA), GLOBAL WARMING COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN
We jumpstarted the broadband revolution. I think this year will be seen as when we started the smart grid revolution. We have to make sure we’re not building the bridges out to coal country. With the REA, we took electricity out to rural America. Now we have to figure out how to take energy from the prairies, the deserts, and the rooftops back to the grid. I agree with everything Boone Pickens said, and I never thought I’d say that.
11:50 LEE SCOTT, WAL-MART
Just remember that there are people for whom $5 more a week means they might not purchase some medicine, some food, something else.
11:55 ANDY STERN, SEIU
We need to make sure we’re creating American jobs. Eighty percent of the jobs provided by the federal government are low-wage jobs. Twenty percent are powerty-wage jobs. We need to build on the Green Jobs Act. We need to not go for one-off solutions. We need a system. We need meaningful job standards. If we are not purposeful and intentional, we’re not going to necessarily be creating good jobs.
12:00 CARL POPE
Prior to 2006, those of us who talked about this issue were relegated to the free speech zone of the national conventions. This fall, I went to northeastern Ohio in an area where steel jobs had gone away twenty years earlier. They thought something finally was going to happen. We can either build this interconnected green world, or we can build it the way we built the railroads. We got a big system, but it took a very long time and wasted a lot of effort.
12:05 SEN. JEFF BINGAMAN (D-NM), ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN
The greatest near-term opportunity is in energy efficiency.
Most of us don’t get to make decisions for China. The rest of us should focus on what we can do right here right now. I don’t see how we get what we want without decoupling.
We are not a secure nation when we import 70 percent of our oil.
This has been a really optimistic session about what we can do if we empower consumers and train workers. Thanks to all for coming here.
I want to express my appreciation to John Podesta for this event. The glue that’s been holding this together for several months is T. Boone Pickens. I can now say that Pickens and myself are friends. I’m introducing bipartisan legislation this week to implement a clean smart grid, a highway to move electricity. We’re going to do it with natural gas. We just need to give incentives for these companies to move to natural gas. We’re going to move forward and do some great things for the American people.
The coalition being built was accomplishment number one. The second is bringing the attention this issue needs. Boone Pickens has given this an edge. Now it’s our job to support Sen. Reid and to get that legislation passed.
When I started the Pickens Plan I didn’t know where it was going. We’re going to have an energy plan for America. It’s been a great honor to be associated with Sen. Wirth, Sen. Reid, and John Podesta.
We’ve moved from whether we’re going to create a clean economy with green jobs to the hard work of how it’s going to get done. This is a moment where we can move forward and pass energy legislation and pass it expeditiously. We’re at the cusp on unleashing through more efficiency and more transmission to move clean renewable power. Today’s session gave us hope that there’s going to be good news.
Q: Jeff Young, Living on Earth: Legislation?
Reid: We’re going to make a full announcement later this week.
Q: Margaret Ryan, CleanSkies.TV: Governors?
Reid: The governors have been a little busy, but of course. That’s why we had the spokesman for the state regulators.
Q: Ian Talley, Dow Jones Newswire: State v. federal?
Reid: Whatever we do at the federal level trumps all that.
Reid: Sen. Burris is a United States Senator. The Senate Ethics Committee is looking at this.
Q: Darren Samuelsohn. What’s changed since Lieberman-Warner?
Reid: We’re going to have 59 senators. We want to have it be a bipartisan bill. We’re going to work very hard that legislation that we work on will be one that will have bipartisan support.
Q: Greenwire: Who’s going to be the Republican?
Reid: Wait and see.
Q: A. Siegel: Oil dependency was discussed. Why not electricification of rail?
Reid: We’re going to work on high-speed rail.
Q: Megan Macnamara: Coupling RES and climate legislation?
Reid: I’ve made the decision for them to be separate. Efficiency, renewable portfolio standard, some smart grid will come out of the Energy Committee.