Roth: An 80% clean energy future?

By Jim Roth | February 7, 2011

At the start of this new year, President Barack Obama created a new year’s resolution: for 80 percent of America’s energy to come from clean energy by the year 2035. That’s a very ambitious goal, even as new year’s resolutions go.

The president’s goal is for the Untied State to become a self-sufficient, global energy leader. His goal is bold, yet flexible because it incorporates different energy sources including renewable energy, natural gas, and nuclear power and even suggests the possibility of coal generation with carbon capture. While some of these ideas will prove uneconomical, the idea is to rely upon ourselves and that is a resolve we should honor.

Using a “cocktail” of energy, the president’s goal builds on and expands current sources in use like natural gas and wind power, while investing $8 billion in discovering, researching, and deploying newer alternative energy sources.

The Department of Energy announced recently that in 2009, $151 million was distributed in grants to 37 different clean-energy sectors. Since 2009, six of those projects have received large amounts of capital from venture capitalists. In fact, the private investments amount to $4 for every dollar that the federal government, or taxpayers, spent on these new projects. That’s pretty good leverage.

The goal is to “out-innovate” the world when it comes to clean energy. Later this month, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy is hosting an energy innovation summit bringing together the academic, private and government sectors from all around the country to spur the next industrial revolution in clean-energy technologies.

The Obama administration has stated that part of achieving its goal is ending eight oil tax subsidies, some of which are centuries old. That is predicted to save $4 billion a year. As the president explained in his 2011 State of the Union address, “instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.” It’s a touchy subject for sure, especially with turmoil on the rise in countries like Egypt, while the price per barrel inches higher as well.

The Department of Commerce has developed a new Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Export Initiative that provides 23 new commitments across eight different federal agencies to address the trade barriers in the clean-energy sector and to increase the amount of trade promotion activities for renewable-energy and energy-efficiency companies. This means that more of the innovative projects that Americans invent can be placed into the international market and create more jobs, and put American-made clean-energy technologies at the forefront of innovation around the world. We do need American ingenuity to dominate this space and navigating and reducing the federal bureaucracy should go a long way to removing barriers.

Furthermore, the president recently announced the “Better Building Initiative,” which aims at improving the efficiency of commercial buildings; 40 percent of the United States’ energy consumption comes from commercial buildings. The goal is to make commercial buildings 20 percent more energy-efficient and save the sector more than $20 billion. That can, in turn, be used to create more jobs and spur the economy.

The reality is that renewable energy and energy efficiency are ways the United States can innovate its way back to the top of economies across the globe. These investments in clean energy are investments in the future. Renewable-energy companies are beginning to flourish across the country. More and more states have created renewable-energy portfolios, with states like Texas now receiving more than 8 percent of the energy from wind power.

Oklahoma, in fact, has some of the best wind capacity in the country, and an investment in that sector will only improve Oklahoma’s outlook for years ahead. Also, our state’s native natural gas is the only quick backup for wind at times when it proves unavailable.

Let’s accept the president’s challenge for America to lead again, and work to win this race for the world’s energy future by beginning at home!

Jim Roth, a former Oklahoma corporation commissioner, is an attorney with Phillips Murrah P.C. in Oklahoma City, where his practice focuses on clean, green energy for Oklahoma.