Published Monday, Aug. 10, 2009 | 10:35 a.m.
Updated Monday, Aug. 10, 2009 | 5:35 p.m.
Beyond the Sun
Former President Bill Clinton today urged America to take control of its energy future.
In a nearly hour-long speech at the National Clean Energy Summit at UNLV, Clinton urged Americans to support energy efficiency measures, including green building practices and weatherization retrofits on all buildings. He called efficiency measures low-hanging fruit as the country battles global warming, recession and rising energy costs. Clinton noted that millions of Americans are unemployed or underemployed but that their plight could be eased by aggressive retrofit campaigns that would save energy and money while putting Americans back to work.
Energy experts, politicians and business officials from around the country are in Las Vegas today discussing what the United States needs to do to become the leader in clean energy at UNLV's Cox Pavilion.
In his speech, Clinton urged politicians and everyday Americans to get weatherization and retrofit programs off the ground now. He said people are too often distracted from this important work by the prospect of exciting new technologies that won't have an impact on employment for years. Weatherization, he argued, would have a greater immediate impact. Every $1 billion dollars invested in a power plant creates 870 jobs, he said. If it was invested in solar photovoltaic it would create 1,700 jobs. But if invested in building retrofits it could lead to 6,000 jobs, said.
"It is worth remembering that the least sexy topic is where the most jobs are," he said.
Clinton said his message is particularly relevant for Nevada, which has seen among the highest unemployment and housing foreclosure rates in the country.
He said the hardest part would be convincing naysayers that the country can afford to retrofit old buildings. He said the taxpayers shouldn't have to fund this economic development when there is more than enough money available in the banks. American banks, he said, have $900 billion in funds that could be lent out for residential and commercial retrofits that could be guaranteed to pay for themselves within years.
He proposed creating a federal loan system for energy efficiency similar to the Small Business Administrator's loan program, which encourages banks to grant government-backed loans to qualified small businesses.
"You've got to get the banks involved if you're going to stop piddling around," he said. "We need the jobs today."
'A second industrial revolution'
Earlier today, panelists discussed strategies included workforce training, local and national regulatory improvements, residential and commercial weatherization, energy efficient building codes, renewable energy, electric efficiency and conversion of fleet vehicles, buses and tractor trailers to lower-carbon and plant-based fuel sources.
Speakers noted that the U.S. has exported the very technologies that are allowing other nations to grow their clean energy industries and manufacturing bases. The U.S. needs to support emerging technologies, and research and development so the country can benefit from the advancements made here, panelists said.
"We have to have a second industrial revolution," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said. "The first gave us power that could relieve us of human and animal labor, but we only just realized what the costs were -- specifically carbon dioxide. We need to develop technology that enables us to get the energy we need to develop and prosper but will reduce and eliminate carbon dioxide. Once we get this machine geared, we'd be invincible but the trouble is getting it going."
The country is still behind in the race for dominance in the industry. China has revealed plans to roll out a huge smart grid over the next few years and most of the world's solar panels are built overseas. Improving the country's own grid and bringing jobs back to America will create new jobs, improve productivity and diversify the economy, panelists said.
Much of the oil the United States imports is purchased from unstable or unfriendly governments, and converting to cleaner, local fuel sources would make the country less vulnerable to the whims of hostile nations, panelists said.
Gore calls climate change 'our mandate'
Kicking off the summit this morning, former vice president Al Gore said that solving the problem of climate change is "our generation's mandate and responsibility."
Gore, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his climate change activism, said he expected Sen. Harry Reid to secure renewable energy jobs for Nevada the same way the head of the Senate Appropriations Committee had once brought enormous government investment for the building of the atomic bomb for his home state of Tennessee.
"Indeed there are lots and lots of good jobs in this effort to re-power America," Gore said.
Development of clean energy, Gore said, can stabilize energy prices and reduce dependency on foreign oil, help end the economic crisis, and solve the problem of climate change by reducing carbon emissions.
The success of such events will be judged by future generations, he said.
"Our kids years from now say, 'Didn't you notice the entire polar ice cap was melting in the summer of 2009?" Gore said. "Didn't you care about that? Didn't you notice these storms? Didn't you notice the thousand year drought, rising sea levels, trees dying across the American West? What we're y'all doing - watching 'American Idol'?"
The second annual summit was organized by the university, Reid and the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
Early speakers included Gore, Reid, and Center for American Progress executive director John Podesta. They framed the event as a chance to provide a boost for energy legislation to pass through the Senate with a higher cost for carbon emissions.
The event features speeches and roundtable talks by top Obama administration brass, national energy experts and environmental glitterati.
Demonstrators make their voices heard
This year's event promises to focus on jobs and transforming the American economy from reliance on carbon-intensive energy sources such as oil and gas and toward renewable energy, such as wind and solar, as well as energy efficiency technologies.
It was a theme echoed by out-of-work laborers inside the event and green jobs picketers outside the university gates.
Several hundred demonstrators on both sides of the ongoing energy debate rallied outside the Thomas & Mack Center, weathering already sweltering temperatures.
About 75 conservative activists waved signs and shouted at passing cars.
Shawn Moshos, a union carpenter and Ron Paul delegate to the Nevada state Republican Convention in Reno last year, said he was on hand to protest policies that he believes will edge America toward socialism. "This is about controlling America's prosperity, when we should be in charge of our prosperity." Recently passed legislation that would limit carbon emissions by instituting a system for trading and selling emissions credits would destroy more jobs than it would create, he charged.
The conservative demonstrators were outnumbered by progressive activists who chanted, "What do we want? Clean energy! When do we want it? Now!"
Despite the focus on clean energy policy, the event has the feel of a political event, with lobbyists and political operatives, nearly all of them Democrats, chatting each other up and getting ready for the big-name Democrats to speak.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won't attend the summit and instead will work in Sacramento before returning to Cape Cod, Mass., to be with his extended family.