The National Clean Energy Project – informally known as the Energy Summit – is about to get underway at the Newseum in Washington, DC.
The Newseum is, as the name suggests, a museum about the news and information industry just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol building.
The Energy Summit is being led by Sen. Harry Reid who is the Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, former White House chief of staff John Podesta who is the head of the Center for America Progress Action Fund and, of course T. Boone Pickens and the Pickens Plan.
In addition to those three, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is to speak as well as former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore.
Harry Reid is leading off. He said earlier this morning that he would be introducing legislation this week to begin the process of building a 21st Century Transmission Grid. He also talked about Sen. Jeff Bingaman (NM) who is chair of the Senate Energy Committee and the work that committee will be doing on developing natural gas as a major transportation fuel.
Boone started the day with a round of TV interviews including a early-morning “hit” with CNBC’s Becki Quick:
Former President Bill Clinton was asked why an energy plan has taken so long … “We didn’t have the votes!”
Mr. Clinton then said “Boone Pickens and I were talking on the way down here about how amazing it is that even in the face of falling oil prices this coalition has held together – and is stronger than ever.”
President Clinton said that a crucial part of of the stimulus package will be building out renewable energy sources and for energy efficiency. He talked about buildings which, because of better insulation, lighting and and other modern techniques, use so much less energy that when solar panels or other energy producing devices are installed, the building can become “carbon negative;” It uses less energy than it produces.
Former Vice President Al Gore spoke next and congratulated the Congress and the Administration on the portions of the stimulus package which deals directly with climate issues. He said that over the past 20 years there has been a pattern established which, when emissions and climate issues have been examined, the actual data have been at or above the worst-case scenerios that scientists had projected.
Mr. Gore said that it is America’s values which is so important. “The United States is the only nation in the world that can lead the world out of this situation – the can-do spirit which is exhibited by Boone Pickens – is what the world will look to and will follow.”
Mr. Gore said that the common thread is our dangerous dependence on carbon-based fuels. We have to move from an infrastructure based on carbon to an infrastructure based on renewables.
Central to that new infrastructure, Mr. Gore said, is building a new, smart, 21st Century Grid.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi took up the call for the establishment of a new transmission grid and compared it to the building of the Interstate Highway in the 1950’s which, Al Gore had told the group at breakfast, was a project sponsored by his father, Sen. Al Gore, Sr.
Rep. Pelosi pointed out that in the stimulus package there is also money for the education of young scientists and engineers to be able to design and build the new grid which utilize new energy sources.
*** THE LIVE WEBCAST OF THE SUMMIT IS AVAILABLE BY CLICKING HERE.
Boone Pickens was next and started his remarks by noting he was seated between Al Gore and Energy Secretary Steven Chu – both Nobel Prize Laureates. “I hope there’s a camera here to show this to the faculty at Oklahoma State University!”
Boone then laid out the problem of foreign oil – $475 billion spend in 2008 – and $17 billion in January alone. He pointed out that Mexico – which is our third largest supplier of foreign oil – is running out of oil and will be a net oil importer in five years. “That oil will have to be replaced by something – the choice is more oil from the Middle East or we can use our own resources.
“We have the renewables working, but wind or solar or biomass will not operate an 18-wheeler. He talked about Dave Freeman (who is sitting in the audience) who runs the Port of Los Angeles and is working to move all of the rolling stock at the Port from gasoline and diesel to natural gas.
John Podesta, who is the chair of the Center for American Progress Action Fund has been at the center helping to organize and sponsor this summit. Podesta thanked all of the public officials for their leadership and noted that Boone has provided the private boost needed to help move the energy policy debate out of Washington and into kitchens and livingrooms throughout the nation.
John Sweeney – the head of the AFL-CIO – said there are not enough trained workers in the energy field and the workforce which is there is aging. He said there need to be labor-management programs which will provide for the training necessary to translate into good jobs.
Van Jones is the founder and president of the group, “Green for All.” He made the point that “green jobs” are crucial because as they are improving the environment, the improve the lives of the individuals who have those jobs and thereby improve the communities the workers live in.
The Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, noted that the U.S. Government owns 20 percent of the land mass in America. He talked about how rural electric cooperatives are so important, especially in the West. He said that his farm in rural Colorado didn’t get electricity until 1981.
Senator Byron Dorgan (ND) has been a major supporter of both wind energy and the transmission lines necessary to move the energy from where it is produced, to where it is needed.
Denise bode, CEO of the Wind Energy Association talked about the increase in wind generation capacity which was built out in 2008. She talked about the number of jobs which were created in the building of wind farms, but also the positive longer-term effects on communities which will have permanent jobs.
She, too, talked about the need to build out transmission lines to move the power to the population centers which need it. “Walk into any house, and you notice that in house after house every electrical outlet has a plug already in it.”
There are 300,000 megawatts of wind projects ready to be built, but they have to wait for transmission lines to deliver the power to the existing grid.
Energy Secretary Steven Chu (who won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1997) talked about the technical issues which attend to building a 21st Century Grid. Renewable resources are transient. When we are getting less than 3 percent of our power from renewables the up-and-down nature of renewable production is not that important. But as renewable energy becomes a large and larger percentage of our energy usage we have to think about new storage technology to store the energy from wind and solar farms which will not be immediately used.
He discussed the need for standards which attend to a smart grid. “It is difficult for anyone to begin working on a 21st Century grid” without knowing what the standards for allowing the grid to operate will be.”
Former New York Governor George Pataki, who was an early adopter of clean energy for state vehicles and state buildings, said that the Federal government has a critical role in developing a partnership which will allow the Federal and State governments to work together to develop maps and rights-of-way for the building of a new grid.
Robert Kennedy (who appeared at the Capitol Hill Town Meeting with Boone in December) announced a new project to build a new solar-thermal plant in California. The plant is cheaper to build than any other type of power plant. We could build solar-thermal plants (along with wind) could be built out to the point where it would supply 100 percent of America’s energy for $750 billion.
Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey is the chair of the House telecommunications committee and reminded everyone that in 1996, “not a single home in the United States had broadband.” “Now,” he said “broadband is available just about everywhere and has created a new vocabulary called ‘eBay’ and ‘Amazon.'”
Mr. Markey is also the chair of the Select Committee on Energy and the Environment. He compared the growth of the telecommunications industry after the introduction of the Internet with the potential growth of energy-related businesses and industries.
He ended his remarks by saying “I never thought I would ever say this but, I agree with everything Boone Pickens said.”
Lee Scott is the Chairman of Walmart which has been working diligently to increase the energy efficiency of its operations from warehouses to retail stores. He said they have found a way to help consumers save money and protect the environment with items like energy efficient lightbulbs and better packaging.
A new store in Nevada is using 40 percent less energy than older stores. Being more efficient in how they route their trucks (and reducing the weight they ahve to carry due to less packaging materials) they are saving about 40 percent of their fuel costs.
Mr. Scott also said, “Thanks to Boone and his ability to twist an arm, we will be receiving delivering our first Liquified Natural Gas truck. So please, Boone, don’t call me any more [laughter].”
Andy Stern is the President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) asked the group to consider, as these projects move forward, to make certain as many jobs as possible stay in America. We have a tremendous responsibility to look at the whole systems to make certain that we use this opportunity to create a new economy.
Carl Pope of the Sierra Club – which was one of the first third-party endorers of the Pickens Plan – reminded the group that until just recently “people like me were relegated to the free speech zone at the national conventions.”
He said that energy efficiency is a local-job creation machine. He said if “I want to make my home more efficient, that can’t be done in India. It has to be done in Ohio where I live.”
He said we should look not only at the way we built the Interstate system, but also the way we built the railroad system. “We ended up with a very big railway system,” he said, “but it took too long and was too inefficient because there was no plan.” He urged the other panelists to agree on a plan and stick to it as this process moves ahead.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (NM) is the Chair of the Senate Energy Committee will have the responsibility of drafting a new energy plan which will encompass almost all of what is being discussed here.
Michael Thaman is the CEO of Owens Corning and is a corporate partner in the Pickens Plan. He focused the groups attention on the energy efficiency side of the equation and reminded them that home and commercial construction is as much a part of America’s infrastructure as bridges and roads.
Boone Pickens – We must have a plan to solve this problem. We have not had a plan in 40 years. Natural gas is the only fuel which is ours and is abundant. It is the bridge to the next transportation fuel, which may be 20-30 years away.
If batteries and fuel cells come on line sooner, that’s ok because natural gas is so important it will be used for other things.
The Saudis have promised $75 oil. They’ll get us there. We have to have a plan and this type of bi-partisan discussion will get us there.
Al Gore – I am struck by the tone of this meeting; the sense of purpose which has been evident here today. He told the “Story of Two Planets” Earth and Venus. On Earth the average temperature is 59 degree. On Venus 855 degrees. The difference is on Earth carbon is in the ground, on Venus it’s in the atmosphere.
We have been working as hard as we can to take the carbon out of the ground and put it into the atmosphere. We can’t keep doing that.
We should use natural gas for the 18-wheelers as a bridge fuel and go to batteries for cars and light trucks.
Bill Clinton – We have a consensus to move, but the details matter. We all know we are going to need cap and trade legislation, and we need a global agreement on standards. Hillary has just returned from China. She said they know what they have to do, but they don’t know how to get to a 50 percent reduction.
Most of us can’t do anything about China’s environment, but we can do the things which are right in front of us. We have to increase efficiency standards for household appliances. We have to allow states to fund local energy production and not reserver all the money for large power plants.
If you’re not in the government your job is to prove that this can work – at the local level. That means we have to stop favoring one type of power generation over another.
Sen. Harry Reid – This is inspirational. I always think about 60 votes. I hope we can focus on Sen. Bingaman’s Energy Bill. The reason I was happy to hear what Boone said is that this is not a political meeting.
We have a problem. We are not a secure nation if we are importing 70 percent of our oil. We can have a good economy and a good environment – they are not mutually exclusive.
John Podesta – We’ve been treated to a lot of bad news lately. This has been an optimistic session and we have put wind at the back of the change that we need.