Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bronze Medal: US Drops to 3rd in Clean Energy Investment

Sucks to slip a notch, but third isn't all that bad, especially considering the jump in investment that occurred after we started coming out of the recession. Let's hope that momentum continues. It's doubtful we will catch China at this point, but we should be able to pass Germany again with a little effort.

The United States fell one spot to third place in clean-energy investment last year as the lack of a national energy policy hurt purchases in wind and solar power and other technologies, a report said on Tuesday.

China came in first and Germany second, according to the report "Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race" by the Pew Charitable Trusts, an independent, nonprofit group.

In the previous year the United States had fallen from the top spot to second place, behind China.

A comprehensive energy bill died in the Senate last July. Washington also has failed to pass national mandates for utilities to produce minimum amounts of clean power that environmentalists and some analysts say would boost confidence for alternative energy companies to invest in the country.

Investment was up 51% last year in the US to $34 billion, but that fell below China's $54 billion and Germany's $41 billion. And last year, China announced they would be spending upwards of $738 billion over the next decade - which, at the current pace, would double our efforts. China is shooting for a 15% non-fossil fuel energy production by 2020. Wave goodbye as they leave us in the dust; unless we pass a law for mandatory lobotomies for Republicans, we aren't going to catch them.

Doesn't mean we give up though. We still lead the world in venture capital investment, but what is happening is that ideas that are developed here in the US quickly leave for other countries where there are incentives creating the demand to produce and implement the products. Glad to see Governor Granholm as the voice behind the media blitz on this report, so take it away...

"There had been a theory out there that China was rising so fast in clean energy because of its low labor costs," Jennifer Granholm, a former Michigan governor and adviser to Pew, said in an interview. "This is not about labor costs, this is about policy."


Granholm said increasingly China and other countries developed and distributed ideas generated by the U.S. venture capital system. Alternative-energy firms prefer setting up manufacturing and distribution plants in countries that have national incentives.

About 30 U.S. states have passed their own so-called renewable portfolio standards, which set mandates for minimum amounts of power from alternatives. But often they are surrounded by states that lack the mandates, which discourages investment, Granholm said.

Certainly the patchwork approach of different standards and target dates in the states is confusing, but it is obvious that states that have renewable standards are the ones creating demand. For some, implementing a national standard won't matter because they have already set their goals very high (and interestingly enough, some of the states with the highest populations have set the highest standards).

We have already seen how the demand works here in Michigan, even at our low standard of 10% by 2015. We have manufacturing companies expanding into wind and solar parts and systems, and we have energy companies directly participating in the creation and installation of solar and wind farms, not to mention biofuels and biomass projects as well - all of which is creating jobs.

For yet another example, at the beginning of this month, it was announced that DTE is soliciting projects from all over the state to help them meet our RPS goal. A group of companies, led by New Generation Power out of Illinois, and including Albion's Patroit Solar, Holland's Solar Street Lights USA, and Windemuller out of Whitehall/Wayland, proposed a 200 MW wind/solar farm near Albion. This will create 500 jobs for installation and construction - and an estimated 100 permanent jobs afterward. The size is enough to produce power for nearly all of Calhoun County, including the city of Battle Creek.

Patriot Solar received a MEGA tax credit in February, planning on expanding their tracking system production line as they solicit more big projects such as this. They are expected to create nearly 200 permanent jobs of their own in the next five years, 108 of those coming in 2011.

RPS = jobs. Policy works. It all comes down to whether or not we are willing to fight for the policy. That's where it gets tricky at the federal level. What say you, Democrats? President Obama will outline his vision on energy policy this Wednesday at Georgetown U., and again on Friday when he inspects a "clean fleet" of corporate vehicles in Maryland. It's obvious that he is behind this - hopefully we can muzzle the Upton's of the world, and get the rest of Congress behind this as well.

Yeah, a girl can dream. We will get there someday, now it's just a question of how fast we are willing to do it - or how far behind the rest of the world we are willing to fall.