Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Presidential Forum on Global Warming and America's Energy Future

At 5:30 this evening, several environmental groups hosted the Presidential Forum on Global Warming and America's Energy Future. Three candidates -- Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Sen. John Edwards -- showed up to talk about their platform with regards to mitigation of (and to a much lesser extent, adaptation to) global warming. Each candidate had 10 minutes to speak and then had a Q&A sessions with several panelists. It was available on a live webcast, and I'm sure that video will be posted somewhere at some point if you care to watch it.

This post will summarize the key points of each candidate's discussion. It will unfortunately be somewhat brief, as I have a paper to be writing (about America's energy future, funnily enough).

Representative Kucinich took the stage first. After touting his green credentials in terms of his lifestyle (he's a vegan with a Ford Focus and a 1600-square-foot home), he proposed a "Works Green Administration" as a way to get the various parts of the federal government to work together on this and other issues of sustainability. He emphasized that pro-environment and pro-economic policies need not be mutually exclusive; that new jobs would be created by the low-carbon economy; that the costs of global warming hitting us full force would be greater than the costs of its mitigation; that Americans would not have to sacrifice to move to a low-carbon economy. To that end, he proposed a nationwide minimum guaranteed income (along with healthcare), so that (among other things) workers who lose their jobs due to the transition would maintain their standards of living. He also emphasized that we must stand up to the fossil fuels lobbyists. Most interestingly to me, he suggested that he would go over Congress to empower the American people should Congress fail to take action that's strong enough. I liked that he called clean coal, something that other candidate's plans encourage research into, an "oxymoron." Unfortunately, he didn't detail any specifics of his plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this country; his speech was mostly rhetoric and little substance.

Senator Clinton spoke next. She came on strong, detailing her plan. This includes a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions, with emissions reduced 80% below 1990 levels by 2050 and with all allowances auctioned off. She plans to reduce imports of foreign oil 2/3 by 2030. She will set a goal of having 25% of our electricity come from renewable sources by 2025. She plans to push energy efficiency as one of the best ways to lower the carbon intensity of our economy (indeed, she would sign an Executive Order on her first day in office demanding all new federal buildings to be carbon-neutral), and wants to create 5 million "green collar jobs." And finally, she proposed the creation of a Strategic Energy Fund, with $50 billion over the next 10 years raised from taxation of fossil fuel industry profits. This money would go towards renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean coal (frowny face from Sam), biofuels, cleaner automotive technology, and other research and deployment programs. Money for this fund would also come from the sale of "Energy Independence Bonds." She also emphasized the importance of international talks for post-Kyoto agreements. Her plan is quite comprehensive, and she encouraged the audience to visit www.hillaryclinton.com for more details.

Senator Edwards spoke last. He, too, detailed his plan, which despite its relative early stage of complexity (compared to Sen. Clinton's plan), was the first proposed by any presidential candidate in this campaign. He proposes the implementation of a cap-and-trade system beginning in 2010, with carbon emissions reduction targets of 20% by 2020 and 80% by 2050. He would create a "New Energy Economy Fund," underwritten with $3 billion from oil subsidy reductions and $10 billion from the sale of emissions allowances. More generally, he emphasized the importance of energy efficiency over the creation of new generating capacity. He also proposed modernizing the electricity grid to make net metering easier and to improve stability, offering low-interest loans for individuals and families who wish to implement renewable energy technologies and/or energy efficiency into their homes, and restructuring utility regulation to detach utility profits from electricity sales in order to encourage utilities to invest in the energy efficiency of their customers, as California has done. Interestingly, he emphasized that the transition to a low-carbon economy isn't going to be easy -- sacrifices will have to be made. He proposed that some of the money from his Fund would go to people who are hurt (for example, by loss of their jobs) by the transition, but unlike Rep. Kucinich, he would not guarantee that such people's standards of living could be maintained.

For more information on the candidates' platforms, visit Grist.org.

2 comments:

Raz said...

Thanks for a great summery. I would love to hear a candidate talk about the solution that Citizenre has come up with. They are trying market solar with an approach similar to satelite TV, cellular telephones, and alarm systems. That is to provide the customer a complete solar system with no upfront charges and make money from a service contract. In this case the service contract would be a rent agreement. They intend to put a complete solar system on a clients home at no charge. When the system produces electricity, it will lower the bill from the current utility provider. In most cases the savings from the lower bill will more than cover the rent fee that the company intends to charge. The company currently has no product available but intends to deploy in the middle of 2008. They are currently taking reservations and have 25,500 takers so far. I have written several articles on this company in my blog and even have a couple of vidoes that I have recorded at wwwsolarjoules.com. Feel free to take a look. I welcome comments. As in any start up business, a chance exists that they may never get off the ground and fulfill any preorders, but if this is the case - the potential client has not lost anything. If you cannot afford the upfront cost of solar today, this may turn out to be a great alternative.

If any effort was put into a project like this at the political level - just imagine the impact.
I just learned that a man in Brazil is doing this in areas that have no current electricity. He will rent a complete system - electrical outlets and all, for about the same price that the client was paying for candles and karosine.

Sam said...

Yes! This is exactly the kind of creative financing options that we're going to need to begin the transition to personal PV without having to wait for it to become economically practical to buy it yourself. The prospect of doing this in developing countries is also exciting, as long as we don't force it on them, of course.