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Unified, Long-Term Renewable Energy Policy Needed,
says Sen. Murkowski

The US economy benefits from a loan guarantee program for renewable energy, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) speaking at the Retech 2011 conference, but she is worried about such a program.

Murkowski, ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee, said 70 percent of Federal support programs for renewable energy expire in the next few years. She was speaking before a conference of alternative and renewable energy executives and entrepreneurs.

The Senate should move forward with its contribution to policy, she said. For three years the chamber has been on the verge of a debate about an energy policy. An energy bill was introduced and worked its way through committee. But it has yet to be discussed on the Senate floor. Because businesses are waiting for the rules that will guide their work, there is uncertainty surrounding this "promised debate," she said.

She said it is possible for Congress to ensure a steady flow of support for renewables, but it should, in fact, look to the long term. Often funding is only for two years, which leaves a large question of whether it would be renewed. She said the United States should have a policy that will last five to ten years and endure shifts in political configurations or other factors. In fact, she said, it is questionable whether a two-year bill or program could actually be called a policy.

Murkowski told the renewable energy business audience to plan for a world with less government financing. She advised them to concentrate on business models and lowering costs. The business case for this could be seen in US imports of oil, which costs the US economy billions of dollars to acquire 8 million to 9 million barrels a day. The United States has the renewable energy resources to reduce that outflow of money to foreign producers.

Speaking of her home state of Alaska, she said it is too often thought of as the oil state. But she said Alaska has a very large percentage of the country's coastline, making it a good candidate for supplying ocean and tidal power. She also noted that Alaska has a great need for renewable energy; many remote villages rely on diesel generators for electricity and this could cost as much as 70 cents per kilowatt hour.

Adm. Dennis V. McGinn (retired), president of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said the US needs long-term vision to bring the correct tech into mainstream. The country still struggles with fossil fuel, must look back only long enough to learn what lessons were and use them to advance, he said.

There are already international confrontations over energy now, but the US should work to make sure they do not become conflicts.

McGinn said he could not think of a greater natl security issue than the way US generates electricity and uses transport fuels. It is good, he noted, that the US has new reserves of natural gas, but there are challenges, such as environmental issues surrounding shale gase. But natural gas provides great complement for renewables.

McGinn said the country has changed energy mix often. Drawing on his experience in the US Navy he gave the following example. At first the fleet was wind-powerd. But when steam was introduced, fleets hedged their bets and added a boiler to a sailing ship, with smokestacks coexisting with sailing masts. In time the sails came down and the fleet travelled under steam powered by coal, which created a geopolitical need for coaling stations around the world. Eventually oil replaced coal. And in the last century nuclear vessels became an important part of the fleet.

"The idea of being able to change is absolutely a key theme," McGinn said.

Gina F. Adams, vice president for government affairs at FedEx, said her freight company is extremely concerned about the future of fuel costs and access because it is operating 700 airplanes and 80,000 vehicles. Every recession in the last four decades has coincided with a spike in the price of oil, she said by way of example.

She said FedEx is active in making a transition to electric vehicles. The lithium ion battery can form the nucleus of an electric transport system run by many types of fuel, rather than being dependent the sole source of oil. It has 900 hybrid vehicles now.

Adams also said FedEx is active in developing certification standards for jet bio fuel and is assisting in the search for the best crops that will produce aviation grade fuel.

James Connaughton, Constellation Energy's vice president for corporate affairs, public and environmental policy, said he had worked with ACORE on its efforts to have a 20 percent renewable energy mix in the US by 2020 when he was with White House Council on Environmental Quality.

Connaughton said the world used to look at energy in silos but must now look at total energy equation.

He noted a recent boom in solar power leasing, and forecast that will help change the economics of solar, contributing to cost convergence between conventional electricity and solar electricity in five years.

Connaughton described a contract in which Constellation will supply the US State Department with 10 megawatts of solar and 17.5 megawatts wind electricity, making the agency's energy acquisition 50 percent renewable.

He also noted Constellation is running electric vehicles in Baltimore at equivalent of 50 cents per gallon.

Connaughton called on the US to create a "grand coalition" of renewable sector with natural gas sector with nuclear sector with electric sector.

Johannes Remmel, minister of environment and climate protection in German North Rhine-Westphalia state parliament, described his state's program called "Energy Turn Around." He said it is a comprehensive policy that will effect every sector of the industrial heart of Germany. In addition to deep cuts in emissions by 2020, the policy envisions growing employment in the field. North Rhine-Westphalia produces many of the gear boxes that go in the world's wind turbines. This industry subsector already employs 10,000 workers in his state.