Bold ideas always get a mixed reaction. It’s not until years later that anyone can say objectively if they were effective. President Barack Obama’s alternative energy goals are no exception.
In a January 2009 speech at George Mason University, then President-elect Obama trumpeted a comprehensive plan to revive the nation’s faltering economy. Among other things, his plan includes benchmarks that even the most optimistic solar and wind power advocates consider ambitious. Obama’s remarks stirred up a strong response.
In his speech, Obama said he would double the production of alternative energy in the next three years. He added that his administration will focus on efficiency as a way to reduce energy demand, by modernizing more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improving the energy efficiency of 2 million American homes. Some of these efforts were already underway at press time.
The combined steps, he said, will not only save taxpayers billions on energy bills, but usher in a new era of plentiful jobs in energy efficiency.
Environmental groups and alternative energy industries were understandably elated. The Sierra Club issued a statement commending Obama “for his vision of an economic recovery plan that recognizes the vital role of clean energy.”
The American Wind Energy Association and the Solar Energy Industries Association issued a joint statement saying the two organizations “applaud President-elect Obama’s aggressive goal of doubling the production of alternative energy in the next three years.”
Representatives of conventional fuel sources were less than sanguine. They voiced skepticism that such a dramatic jump in such a short time frame was possible. According to Reuters, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson told reporters after his own speech in Washington on the same day that he predicted fossil fuels—oil and gas—would continue to account for about 60 percent of the world’s fuel supply “for the foreseeable future.”
Economists also objected. The Institute for Energy Research (IER), a think tank devoted to free market energy policies, questioned Obama’s emphasis on government investment to create more green jobs.
“The road to economic recovery will be paved with private sector investment, not government-sponsored asphalt,” said Thomas J. Pyle, IER president.
If and how the Obama administration can achieve its goals remains to be seen. To borrow an old cliche, the devil will be in the details, and this is where much of the debate will take place. Even some members of a supportive Democratic Congress question some of the methods the new administration has embraced. There are questions about tax breaks versus direct investment and other policy choices.
For its part, the new administration has outlined several policies to help achieve its goals. They include an Advanced Manufacturing Fund to identify and invest in advanced manufacturing strategies as well as double funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership to expand an existing program that works with manufacturers to improve efficiency, implement new technology and strengthen growth. The administration also wants to invest $150 billion over 10 years to advance the next generation of
alternative-energy technologies, such as biofuels, plug-in hybrids and a new digital electricity grid. Finally, the Obama administration- will increase funding for federal work force training programs with an emphasis on green technologies.