President Obama gives his State of the Union address tonight, and some supporters of the shift to clean energy worry that the troubled U.S. economy and high unemployment will overwhelm any attention he might want to give climate change.
Sen. John Kerry, who has been leading the Senate drive for climate legislation, urged the president to underscore that climate and energy reform remain priorities for 2010.
"The president has a good story to tell, having personally gone to Copenhagen last month and negotiated an agreement with all the major countries of the world to address climate change," Kerry told E&E. "He can remind Congress that he's invested."
But even if the U.S. president eases off his public drive for climate-protective efforts, the nation's governors are not.
In state of the state addresses across the country this month, governors from both parties have been taking about the value of clean energy and energy efficiency in the race to create stronger economies and jobs. They are touting their successes and aiming to be the state to lead the world into the future.
Even Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, the former chairman of the Republican National Committee, talked about clean energy, biofuels and carbon capture and storage as he discussed the state's fossil fuel industry.
Electric Cars and Innovation
Another Republican, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, set a goal for his state to be the capital of the electric vehicle industry. And he went on to praise the coal-reliant state's shift toward renewable energy:
"Over the last two years, Indiana has been the fastest growing state in wind power, and now businesses seeking to build the equipment for this new industry are coming to Muncie, to New Albany, and to Clinton," Daniels said. "Within weeks, you'll see us explode onto the solar power landscape."
Daniels might get a run for his money on the electric car capital claim.
Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, a Democrat, talked about electric carmaker Fisker's decision to locate in his state, saying, "We should not only build, assemble and distribute the next generation of cars in Delaware. We should invent and manufacture the technology for the cars – as well the technology for other industries of tomorrow." To get there, he called for approval of a bond bill to finance a center for high-tech laboratories, including alternative energy research.
New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch also zeroed in on research and development in his state of the state address. He announced a stimulus-funded partnership with the University of New Hampshire to create the Green Launching Pad, a $750,000 program designed to help clean technology companies grow in New Hampshire.
"These companies will be connected to business, science and engineering faculty to develop finance and marketing plans, and be connected with angel investors and business mentors. They will get intensive support to launch or expand their companies and to create new jobs," Lynch said.
"We can make it possible for even more companies to create the technologies that will reduce pollution, reduce energy costs and provide new sources of energy."
We're the Clean Energy State!
The boldest claim so far has come from New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who declared New Mexico "the Clean Energy State" and dared California to try to match it.
"I believe we've earned it — passing an aggressive renewable portfolio standard, creating the Renewable Energy Transmission Authority and creating the most comprehensive package of clean energy tax incentives in the nation. Just last session we went further, with new initiatives to train our green jobs work force, to establish new districts for renewable energy financing, and to expand solar market development tax credits," Richardson said.
Richardson said New Mexico would soon be announcing one of the world's largest solar generation plants. He also called for doubling the incentive for solar electricity producers in New Mexico. And he announced that he would proposed three bill to cut the state's use of coal-fired power: "one to punish those who repeatedly and grossly pollute our air, another to enable coal companies to initiate carbon storage, and a global warming cap-and-trade bill to create market mechanisms for reducing pollution and rewarding efficiency."
"Coal-fired energy plants remain a major source of energy at home and at work but pump far too much pollution into our skies. We must demand responsible actions by industry, and we must also give them the tools to do it," Richardson said.
Like many governors, California's Arnold Schwarzenegger focused his speech on economic recovery and jobs, jobs, jobs. Still, he stressed that California should remain "the dynamo of green technology," and he asked the legislature to pass an sales tax exemption for the purchase of green-tech manufacturing equipment.
"That, too, means jobs. Those are jobs for the new economy," Schwarzenegger said.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire announced that she would create a Clean Energy Business Development Program to attract more clean energy businesses (the state already has over 400 clean tech companies, she said). She also promised to direct state agencies to enact a green building program to retrofit state buildings "so we put people to work immediately, reduce our carbon footprint and save $60 million in energy costs."
New York Gov. David Paterson, who last year announced a goal of getting 45 percent of the states' power from clean energy by 2015, called this year for "a new economy jobs program that will focus on the clean energy and high-tech growth jobs of tomorrow."
Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle also urged lawmakers to approve a Clean Energy Jobs Act, with a goal of getting 25 percent of his state's energy from renewable sources by 2025 and increasing efficiency. Ticking off a list of clean energy companies already operating in Wisconsin, he said:
"Anyone who says there aren't jobs in the clean energy economy had better open their eyes."
In Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter urged the legislature to "think bigger" and increase the state's renewable energy standard to 30 percent by 2020, a move that he said would create even larger markets for solar, wind, biomass, hydro power and geothermal and "trigger the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs."
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick put a face on clean energy jobs:
"Investing in clean and alternative energy, or the life sciences and biotech, means Dan Leary, an Iraq War vet, can hire more people at his solar installation company in North Andover (I think he's up to 45 so far); and Randy Moquin can get trained, get off unemployment and go to work as an energy auditor out in Springfield."
Energy Efficiency Is Knocking
The governors of Hawaii, Maine, Missouri and Illinois also stressed energy efficiency and the jobs that come with it.
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, whose state is shooting for 70 percent of its power to come from clean energy by 2030, proposed a Hawaii Clean Energy Investment Bonds program that would allow homeowners and businesses to borrow money for the upfront cost of energy efficiency upgrades and pay off the loans through a property tax assessment. The program would put people to work in the clean energy trades while sparing property owners the risk of being stuck costly upgrades if they move.
Maine's Gov. John Baldacci touted his Maine Home Performance Program, which now offers rebates up to $3,000 from federal stimulus funding to residents who make eligible energy and water efficiency improvements to their homes. Baldacci also called legislation supporting a push for offshore wind power by 2030. Rhode Island Gov. Don Caricieri, too, talked about the immense potential of offshore wind in his address, particularly a Deepwater Wind project already in the works.
In Missouri, Gov. Jay Nixon offered $500 in tax relief for residents who make their houses more energy efficient, saying,
"This will help put thousands of Missouri families in new homes, jump-start the housing market and give our skilled tradesmen more green jobs."
Pat Quinn vowed to be "the building governor" for Illinois and get to work on infrastructure, but he stressed that it would be sustainable, green building. That includes a push for high-speed rail and a state capital spending bill that requires investment in energy efficiency.
"We don't want to build one building in Illinois: one public building, one school, one university building, one kind of building of any kind without making sure that it's energy efficient, that it's LEED‐certified, that it's sustainable, that engages in water conservation. We have the resources thanks to the good work of people here in this assembly working with the Governor. We have the resources to embark on this journey," Quinn said.
Capturing the Wind and Sun
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer said her state's goal was to land the top solar manufacturers in the world, adding: "We are well on our way." She talked about the arrival of Suntech Power Holdings, drawn by the state's six-month-old renewable energy tax incentive program.
In Ohio, Gov. Ted Strickland announced the creation of the Energy Gateway Fund — a matching fund backed by $40 million in federal and state stimulus funds that "will make a unique and lasting investment in fuel cells, solar, wind, energy storage and the like." He also asked the legislature to change the tax laws to encourage wind and solar facilities.
"There will come a day when Ohio will be the undisputed home of advanced energy. A day when we will have cast off those two tired little words that have been used to put us down: Rust Belt. Because that's not who we are. A day when the iconic image of the Texas oil rig will be eclipsed by the Ohio-made wind turbine and solar panel," Strickland said.
The first quarter of Strickland's state of the state speech focused on alternative energy and what it had already done for Ohio:
"When I took office Ohio had the nation's weakest advanced energy standard for electricity production. Today, Ohio has the nation's seventh most aggressive standard," Strickland said.
"In renewable and advanced energy manufacturing projects, Ohio now ranks first among the 50 states. The Council of State Governments scoured the nation to tally the total number of new green jobs created last year. And what did they find? Ohio ranks first.
"We've made it this far, this fast on advanced energy because we pursued smart, responsible policies and we made smart, responsible investments."
New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine also started his list of accomplishments with alternative energy, including installing more solar panels than every state but California, blazing a trail in off-shore wind power, and implementing a comprehensive Energy Master Plan to bring greenhouse gas emissions down to 1990 levels by 2020. He recently lost his reelection bid to Republican Chris Christie, whose own platform included making the state "a magnet for renewable energy manufacturers."
Kansas Gov. Mark Parkinson, who has gotten flack from environmentalists for approving a new coal plant that was rejected by the secretary of Health and Environment, said he was setting up a Cabinet team to "make sure that we take advantage of every opportunity to continue to bring transmission, wind farms and green jobs to Kansas.
"It is our destiny to provide clean energy to the rest of the country," the Kansas governor said.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter called for continued investment in Center for Advanced energy Studies in Idaho Falls and encouraged the education system to support "careers like those being created in such emerging green industries as geothermal, wind, solar, biomass and other renewable energy generation, and for what we hope and believe will be a resurgence of cleaner, carbon-neutral and more efficient nuclear power."
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who has been criticized for being wishywashy about climate change, announced the launch of a Utah Energy Initiative to create a 10-year strategic energy plan "to ensure Utah's continued access to our own clean and low-cost energy resources; to be on the cutting edge of new energy technologies; and to foster economic opportunities and create more jobs." He talked about wind projects and geothermal, as well as his state's oil, gas and coal.
A few governors, notably Alaska's Sean Parnell and West Virginia's Joe Manchin, defended their fossil fuels and lashed out at the federal government for trying to protect the environment. Still, Manchin talked about cleaning up the industry with technology, such as the carbon capture and sequestration project at AEP's Mountaineer Power Plant, advances in natural gas from shale, and wood and coal co-firing plants.
Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who will be giving the Republican response to the president's State of the Union speech tonight, also touched on renewable energy.
He called for the legislature to pass a statewide "green jobs zone" and offer income tax credits to businesses that create green energy jobs over the next five years "to further make Virginia a welcome home for alternative energy."
"In Southside Virginia, I visited the entrepreneurs at Piedmont bio-products, who are using a creative distillation process to turn hardy sugar cane and switchgrass into a fuel that you can put in an engine or you can drink," McDonnell told his audience. "It's not tasty, but it's another emerging Virginia energy technology."