Schwarzenegger for Energy Secretary

December 6, 2011

The American Council on Renewable Energy, an umbrella coalition that promotes the wind, solar, geothermal and biomass industries, last night gave its “renewable energy leader of the decade” award to former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. His acceptance speech was by turns a wonky recitation of the policies he pushed for in the Golden State that has made it the leader in adoption of renewables (for a complete picture, read the op-ed he published Monday in the Washington Post) and a stemwinding speech hammering the federal government for its inaction on global warming and its unlevel playing field of its energy subsidies, which favors fossil fuels over renewables by a factor of 5 to 1.

“America has always been at the leading of edge of advancing new energy technologies,” he said in his unmistakable Austrian accent. “Today, we are lagging behind the rest of the world.” Here’s how he put it in the op-ed:

For more than 200 years, the United States has rightly invested in developing new sources of energy. From the land grants for timber and coal in the 1800s to the tax expenditures for oil and gas in the early 20th century to the investment in developing nuclear energy, support for energy innovation has always helped drive America’s growth. Renewable energies, however, have not been treated the same way. When the oil, gas and nuclear industries were forming, federal support for those energies totaled as much as 1 percent of federal spending. Subsidies available to the renewables industry today are just one-tenth of 1 percent.

At the dinner table where I was sitting with bankers, developers and consultants engaged in building renewable energy facilities across the country, talk turned to the possibility that Schwarzenegger might replace physicist Steve Chu, the Nobel laureate, as energy secretary. Solyndra was very much on their minds, not because it represented a failed effort by government to pick winners and losers, as Republicans charge, but because the issue may be used by fossil fuel advocates on Capitol Hill to kill the few subsidies that renewables get from the federal government, including the 30 percent production and investment tax credits that go to new wind and solar facilities, respectively.

I asked the banker to my left what she made of Solyndra. She asked me, “What is the failure rate in the guaranteed loan program?” I said there had been one failed deal: Solyndra for a half billion dollars out of nearly $20 billion invested in 40 so far successful deals or planned projects. No other company has failed to make scheduled payments on its loan (I could answer knowledgeably because I had written about it here). The stimulus act program that set up the loan program set aside $6 billion for losses, assuming about $38 billion in loans would be guaranteed (a loss ratio of about 12 percent). The program is nowhere near using up its loan loss reserve.

The U.S. is falling behind China and the other advanced industrial nations in the production and installation of renewable energy sources. The news out of Durban, South Africa today is that China has made an overture to embrace massive reductions in carbon emissions, and may pledge $100 billion to help itself and other poor countries meet those goals. It clearly recognizes that this “foreign aid” will be a massive boon to its renewable energy production sector, which is being massively subsidized by its national and local governments.

It is stunning to me that neither the New York Times or the Washington Post this morning bothered to even cover the meeting. But the Wall Street Journal did. And yesterday, it gave its lead letter on its op-ed page to Michael Mann, the climatologist from Penn State University who has been in the global warming deniers’ cross-hairs for years. It was a long refutation of the misinformation spread by the Journal editorial section about the mounting evidence that atmospheric carbon dioxide and global temperatures are rising much faster than previously thought. Have the right-wing cranks running the editorial page at the Journal been hearing from saner heads in the business community?

We badly need leadership in the U.S. that can get our business community on board with the anti-global warming train that is pulling out of the station. Schwarzenegger said last night that he plans to devote the rest of his career to the issue. If President Obama were smart, he’d find a place for this Republican in his cabinet. Steven Chu is a nice guy, smart and clearly knows the technology. But Schwarzenegger knows politics and has worked closely with business in his home state, the world’s eighth largest economy when viewed on its own. He’s make an excellent Energy secretary.

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5 Responses to Schwarzenegger for Energy Secretary

  1. michael binder on December 6, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    This JP Morgan article on energy solutions may be of interest.

  2. David Flynn on December 6, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Dear Gooz:

    Very happy, to finally, see such a suggestion in print.

    Arnold would be terrific!

    Thank you,
    D. Flynn

  3. Robert E on December 6, 2011 at 3:10 pm

    According to an Energy Information Administration study, the U.S. subsidizes solar power to the tune of $24.34 a megawatt hour, $23.37 that year for wind, 44 cents for coal, 25 cents for natural gas and $1.59 for nuclear power.

    If Renewable Energy was a prevalent as fossil fuels, we couldn’t afford the subsidies.

    • GoozNews on December 6, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      If renewable energy was as prevalent as fossil fuels, it wouldn’t need any subsidies because the economies of scale would make it cost-competitive. Indeed, if the externalities associated with fossil fuels (deaths, morbidity, environmental degradation, global warming impacts, military spending to secure supplies) were added to its cost, renewables would be cost competitive now. Looking at subsidies as cost-per-watt, while superficially accurate, is a talking point to distract people from the historic support over many decades and the massive hidden subsidies given fossil fuels, which are never counted.

  4. Michael boston on December 6, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    My energy cost was drastically reduced after implementing photovoltiac power system.
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