Prior to the eruption of the Solyndra story, we had the opportunity to have Stephen Lacey of ClimateProgress as a Scaling Green “Communicating Energy” lecture series guest. He became well known in cleantech circles during his years as editor and producer at Renewable Energy World, where he won a 2010 Neal Award for his Inside Renewable Energy podcast. Since then, Lacey’s risen to wider national recognition as an influential energy and environmental writer at ClimateProgress, run by climate policy blogging giant Joe Romm.
Summer vacations and the Solyndra swirl had me wait an embarrassingly long time before posting the highlights of Stephen’s visit with us. His points back then? That clean energy policy will be “a long slog;” that energy policy circles largely ignore government welfare to dirty energy while exaggerating the relatively miniscule policy support provided to clean energy; and that Washington generally doesn’t “get” cleantech. The post-Solyndra salience of his pre-Solyndra remarks show the quality of Stephen’s periscope.
His thoughts on where clean energy is heading:
Generally, the trends within the business community are pretty positive, and moving from reporting on the business of clean energy and coming down to DC to be closer to the political environment, I’ve been struck how difficult things are here…we reached the 1-year mark last Friday of when Congress and the President dropped a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill. And one year on, we have no movement on a clean energy standard, we have the loan guarantee program running out of funds. …and our biggest political fights are over the efficiency of light bulbs and whether or not we should have Styrofoam in the congressional cafeterias.
Lacey also noted, in a discussion preceding this lecture, that, although “cleantech is hot in lots of parts of the country…people in DC don’t get it. The national policy discussion is very backwards,” a combination of “institutional inertia and the influence of polluting industry lobbyists.” As a result of these forces holding back clean energy, Lacey concluded, the policy discussion in Washington, DC is “going to be a long slog.”
On why energy efficiency is so under-covered in the media, relative to its potential impact:
To use the tired phrase, it’s just not sexy…We are so focused on generation in this country, conservation and efficiency just don’t have the same hook that big, first-of-a-kind projects or sexy, innovative technologies do. And the same goes for solar thermal or solar hot water or geothermal heat pumps. These are technologies that are very, very competitive in certain areas of the country and just don’t have the PR backing, and just haven’t been able to tell their story as well as they should…It’s just one of those things that we have to deal with as an industry, that sometimes these stories aren’t as sexy as some of the leading technologies that are out there…we need to continually talk about them, because they are the most effective solutions and unfortunately don’t necessarily get the most attention.
On “The Bryce Syndrome” (my term), in which dirty-energy funded flacks, such as Robert Bryce of the Manhattan Institute, ignore dirty energy welfare and attack popular policy support for clean energy:
A lot of these people generally have a political belief that the government needs to get out of the energy sector. But I really can’t speak to the fact that many of these people make these arguments but still support subsidies for fossil fuel…I think…very clearly money has a lot to do with it, many of the leading members in the House have gotten hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars from fossil energy companies, and these are the same people saying that the government is going to come in and take your incandescent lightbulbs. So, clearly, that has a lot to do with it, but I don’t think there’s any one specific reason why they’re choosing to support repealing subsidies for renewables and ignoring everything else.
Stephen Lacey was on target for November way back in late summer. Maybe that’s not just because he knows his stuff but also because the means to attack clean energy with a story like the Solyndra bankruptcy had been carefully built and readied for just such an opportunity. Clearly, there’s a great deal of money being spent to push fossil fuel propaganda, such as making fallacious jobs claims about “9.2 million U.S. jobs” supported by the oil and gas industry (in reality, it’s more like 799,100 jobs, not 9.2 million) or 20,000 jobs from the Keystone XL tarsands pipeline (in reality, this pipeline could actually destroy more jobs than it creates). As Jack Abramoff is now reminding us, Washington policymakers are too heavily influenced (Abramoff uses the term “bought”) by the modern lobbying system. And no lobby does that better than the fossil fuel lobby, according to New York Times columnist Paul Krugman.
…a large part of our political class, including essentially the entire G.O.P., is deeply invested in an energy sector dominated by fossil fuels, and actively hostile to alternatives. This political class will do everything it can to ensure subsidies for the extraction and use of fossil fuels, directly with taxpayers’ money and indirectly by letting the industry off the hook for environmental costs, while ridiculing technologies like solar.
That’s why we’re in a “long slog” when the country’s needs should have us sprinting.