Obama vs Romney Energy Policies, Politics Have Consequences

240 local chapters of the US Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to the Obama and Romney campaigns yesterday asking them to "support and advance clean energy as a truly non-partisan effort, and to make clean energy growth a top priority in supporting American business and innovation."

A simple first step would be to recognize energy efficiency as a high priority resource, as past administrations have done, the letter says. And they are looking forward to hearing the candidates views discussed during the Presidential debates – the first takes place in Denver tonight.

The chapters are members of "Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy," in 47 states, which helps American businesses "seize economic opportunities in the rapidly growing clean energy sector."

They see support for clean energy as an economic strategy, noting the largest economic competitors to the US are all investing heavily. They also see it as an essential national security issue that can help us wean off oil imports.

The national US Chamber is not as friendly to renewable energy. It’s defended the continuation of oil subsidies, organized a misinformation campaign against Michigan’s referendum in November that would raise the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, but has expressed support for the wind production tax credit. It’s also a member of the group that’s challenging the LEED green building standard.

Voters Views

The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) annual pre-election survey is out and shows near unanimous support for solar among voters, across all political parties. 

92% of voters say solar energy is important for the US and 70% think the government should do more to support to support solar at the federal level. 

74% say energy is an important criteria in selecting a president as well as candidates for other offices this year. As an issue, it trails right behind government spending (90%) and Medicare reform (81%).

Voters also want action on climate change, according to another poll.

Politics Have Consequences

Rather than seeing clean energy as a bipartisan issue, Republicans have used it as a political wedge, calling green jobs "fake" and "illusory," casting renewable energy as unreliable and "pie-in-the-sky" and, their centerpiece – bashing the Department of Energy’s (DOE) efforts to jumpstart the US renewable energy industry – by their relentless attacks on Solyndra.

Even though an independent group found no wrong-doing by DOE and in fact, lauded its success, the fiasco has had its impact. DOE has become excruciatingly careful in delivering on the loans it awarded – less than half the money has been given to companies awarded loans a year ago

Because the GOP pounces on any problem, DOE has become exceedingly risk-averse, delaying loans, and requiring endless documentation. Renewable energy companies find themselves in a bind – any minor setback can result in DOE withholding cash.

Reuters analyzed payments to 19 solar, wind and geothermal projects and found payments have been slow and uneven.

"One of the things it tells you is that the program became highly politicized and it gridlocked the process of doling out money," Theodore O’Neill of Litchfield Hills Research told Reuters.

After the GOP attacks began, DOE strengthened requirements for its loan program. Rather than helping companies commercialize promising technologies, its final loan guarantees went to power generating facilities backed by power purchase agreements.

Instead of joining hands on delivering a competitive renewable energy industry to the US, they cast Obama’s support for clean energy as "a war on carbon-based energy." Clearly, the GOP favors fossil-based energy, but do they have to squash a new industry to do that?

Hopefully, these views will come out in tonight’s debate. The voters are watching.

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