Category Archives: Policy

CERAWeek shows Obama may have Uphill Battle on Green Energy Agenda

Total CEO Christophe de Margerie assured CERAWeek attendees that global oil supplies remain strong despite unrest in North Africa and the Middle East.

The annual CERAWeek conference, currently underway in Houston, is a who’s who of the mainstream energy industry. Attendees include Christophe de Margerie, CEO of the French oil giant Total, Robert Dudley, the new chief executive at BP, and Jose Maria Botelho de Vasconcelos, petroleum minister for African oil powerhouse Angola. The guest list also includes a few notables from outside the world of energy, including former presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Billed by its organizers at Cambridge Energy Research Associates as a place where leaders from the energy, policy, technology, and financial communities rub shoulders, CERAWeek tries hard to be the type of place where ideas are cross-fertilized and conventional wisdom is crafted.

Unsurprisingly, with so many oilmen on the speakers list, the conventional wisdom continues to embrace hydrocarbons. On Tuesday Dudley issued an industry-wide apology for last summer’s Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. While many oil company executives claimed Dudley should have apologized on behalf of BP rather than the industry as a whole, insiders recognize that the apology was a political necessity for an industry hoping for more drilling in the Gulf. Although the White House lifted a post-spill moratorium on deepwater drilling in October, the Obama administration had not approved any new deepwater permits until the end of February.

Domestic drilling was also the focus of a presentation by John Hess, CEO of the integrated oil company Hess Corp. Hess called for the United States to boost its domestic supply of hydrocarbons, noting that “we must maintain the existing tax provisions that incentivize drilling.”

Such calls are in direct opposition to President Barack Obama’s plan for increased federal funding of renewable energy technologies. The president hopes to pay for government investments in green energy R&D by increasing taxes on oil companies. While Hess acknowledges that renewables have a role to play in U.S. energy policy, in his address at CERAWeek he cautioned, “We should be realistic about their contribution to our future energy needs.”

Even former proponents of climate change legislation used their CERAWeek addresses to talk up hydrocarbons. The CEO of Exelon, the largest operator of nuclear power plants in the U.S., sang the praises of natural gas. Exelon’s chief John Rowe claimed “inexpensive natural gas produces cheaper, cleaner electricity than any alternative I know of.”

Given the enthusiasm for oil and gas coming out of the conference, it appears that Obama may have an uphill fight on his hands if he wants renewables to have pride of place in his energy policy. Many conference speakers believe green energy is not politically or technologically feasible. The president will have to work hard to prove them wrong.

Photo: CERAWeek

Illinois Treasury Seeks To Double Venture Capital Investments

The Illinois State Treasurer is backing a bill that could double the amount of money it invests in venture capital funds.

A bill that could double the amount of money allocated by the Illinois State Treasurer to venture capital funds has moved out of committee for a full vote by the state Senate.

A similar bill is in the State House Rules’ Committee, waiting for assignment to a standing committee.

Every year the treasurer’s office invests  $10 billion in funds; of that amount some $75 million streams to venture capital funds backing high-growth sectors like cleantech and technology. The bill currently being debated in Springfield, would double that amount to $150 million, Maura O’Hara, executive director of the Illinois Venture Capital Association, tells G.E.R.

The IVCA has been pushing to increase the amount of state dollars going to venture funds for the past three years.  Much like previous years, the fate of the bill now rests with House Speaker Michael Madigan, who could altogether kill the bill by delaying its committee assignment.


California Legislature Pushing Again for Renewable Energy Standard

With President Barak Obama preparing for an anticipated fight in Washington over federal funding for green energy research, some California democrats are renewing their own attempts to promote green energy on a state level. Last week Joe Simitian, Darrell Steinberg, and Christine Kehoe, three prominent democratic state senators, introduced a bill that would mandate California utilities get 33% of their energy from renewable sources by the end of 2020.

This is not the first time democrats in the state senate have tried to shepherd the bill, popularly referred to as the “renewable portfolio standard,” through California’s legislature. A previous incarnation of the proposal died when the last legislative session came to a close before supporters could hold a vote. However, California’s new governor Jerry Brown has already signaled his approval for the legislation, and with democrats continuing to control both the state senate and California assembly, the bill is likely to find its way to the governor’s desk sooner rather than later.

This version of the bill has better timing in more ways than one. It may also complement Obama’s recent calls for increased federal research funding. Supporters of the renewable portfolio standard acknowledge that they would like to see other states adopt similar requirements for utilities, and new green energy technologies may be necessary to support the growth in demand. The president made clear in his state of the union address that he wants that technology to come from the United States, calling the country’s need to catch up with China’s green energy sector “our Sputnik moment.”

Supporters of the renewable portfolio standard share Obama’s use of space race imagery. Tom Steyer, hedge fund manager and prominent political contributor was on hand when the senators announced the introduction of the bill. He called the effort to increase the proportion of green energy the state uses “much, much bigger than putting a man on the moon.” It may also be the first step in justifying space program-like funding for the development of green energy technologies.

Photo: Glenn Calvin, Flickr

Barrasso Seeks to Block EPA Greenhouse Gas Regulations

Republican Sen. John Barrasso, who is fast becoming Congress? most prominent climate change denier, introduced a bill Monday to block the Environmental Protection Agency?s powers to regulate greenhouse gases.??As The New York Times reports, the bill would overturn the EPA?s 2009 finding that carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases are a public health hazard.? Continue reading Barrasso Seeks to Block EPA Greenhouse Gas Regulations

Obama Throws down Green Energy Gauntlet in State of the Union

President Barack Obama alternately played the role of cheerleader-in-chief and political tough guy while giving green energy pride of place in his State of the Union address Tuesday. In his speech the president sketched out a vision of a government that supports innovation by funding research and development into a variety of new technologies, including clean energy technologies.


While noting that competition from the likes of China and India presents a challenge to the United States global economic position, Obama reaffirmed his belief that home grown technological advances are the key to the country’s economic future. After pointing out that China is now home to the world’s largest solar research facility, he laid out his case for increasing government spending on cleantech research and development, stating “This is our Sputnik moment.”

Based on the president’s tone, the challenge is not just to researchers. It is also to America’s green energy competitors as well as his political rivals.

Some of the specific green energy goals the president highlighted include putting one million electric cars on U.S. roads by 2015 and ensuring that 80% of the U.S. electricity comes from clean energy sources by 2035.

Wary of Republicans charge that increased government spending would add to Washington’s hefty budget deficit, the president referred to increased funding for clean energy research and development as an “investment.” Obama also proposed that the government offset the cost of funding clean energy research by eliminating subsidies and tax breaks for oil companies.

The Republican response to the president’s speech, issued by Representative Paul Ryan (R. Wis.), did not specifically mention green energy funding, but did state that the federal debt was out of control and the country was in a state of fiscal crisis.

Obama seems to be girding for a fight over government supported green energy research. “We’re not just handing out money, we’re issuing a challenge,” he said on Tuesday. Based on the president’s tone, the challenge is not just to researchers. It is also to America’s green energy competitors as well as his political rivals.

Photo: Chuck Kennedy, White House

Ontario Conservatives Say Green Energy Act Is Not Sustainable

The Green Energy Act, Ontario’s famed package of green energy subsidies that’s helped attract billions of dollars in new, cleantech investments, is emerging as a wedge issue in the provincial election scheduled for the fall.

The Province’s Liberal Conservatives, led by Tim Hudak, say the feed-in tariff and the other subsidies included in the Green Energy Act are too expensive and not sustainable.

Continue reading Ontario Conservatives Say Green Energy Act Is Not Sustainable

Brown’s Inaugural Address Full of Tough Fiscal Talk, Commitment to Green Energy

Monday’s inauguration of California’s newly elected governor Jerry Brown was a decidedly no frills affair, with Brown using his inaugural address to emphasize the importance of belt tightening in the face of the state’s estimated $28 billion budget deficit. However, despite dedicating the bulk of his speech to California’s ongoing financial woes, Brown still managed to reiterate his commitment to maintaining the state’s role as the epicenter of green energy investment in the United States. Continue reading Brown’s Inaugural Address Full of Tough Fiscal Talk, Commitment to Green Energy

The Alternative Agenda: Renewable Energy Grants Face Crucial Vote and Cancun Fallout

Renewable Energy Grants: A Prisoner to Senatorial Whim

Renewable Energy Grants (or, wonkishly 1603 grants) face crucial vote today

What will become of the popular grants, which cover up to 30 percent of the cost of renewable projects? Right now, it appears as though the grants may be extended for one year, but the vote in the senate comes today at 3 p.m. As we wrote on Friday, however, this sort of will-they-or- won?t-they nailbiter happens because energy isn?t considered important enough to get its own legislation. So, we can look forward to more of the same in the coming years. ? Continue reading The Alternative Agenda: Renewable Energy Grants Face Crucial Vote and Cancun Fallout

The Alternative Agenda: Cancun Talks Plod Onward, Chinese Solar on a Hot Streak

It's a shame that climate negotiators can't at least enjoy the beaches

Cancun talks, week 2: The Apocalypse

Commentators are so pessimistic about the odds of success at the United Nations? Cancun climate change talks that they?ve been talking about failure in Mexico since Copenhagen failed. Now the Cancun talks have actually begun? it?s an apocalypse! Negotiators are now hoping for a two-year deadline for industrialized nations to sign on for emissions cuts after Kyoto expires in 2012. But the old industrialized versus developing nation rivalries have resurfaced (really, they never went away).

Meanwhile, Harvard?s Robert Stavins has a formula for what success might look like in Cancun. Continue reading The Alternative Agenda: Cancun Talks Plod Onward, Chinese Solar on a Hot Streak