The clean energy message is everywhere in Denver this week. It’s plastered on billboards in the form of clean coal ads and posted on placards highlighting the solar panels atop public buildings. Most of all, it’s on the lips of politicians and business leaders in town for the convention. “Energy is probably the number one issue,” says wind industry veteran Michael Skelly, who is running as a Democrat to represent Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Skelly was talking about alternative energy at a recent reception hosted by TechNet, a group of leading U.S. technology companies seeking to promote clean tech. His conversation echoed those in the home of Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter earlier in the day, on the Pepsi Center’s main stage—where Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm moderated a panel on alternative energy—and in the bloggers’ Big Tent where T. Boone Pickens outlined his plan to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil with wind and domestic natural gas.
Why the focus on clean energy, compared to other issues? Clean energy advocates are arguing that the issue is something of a catch all for the main problems facing the country. A good policy could help address the slowing economy, national security, global warming and pollution, and trade. "If we get energy right it will help us on national security, it will help the economy, it will help on the environment," says Skelly. "So there is a big bonus to get energy right.
In fact, many business leaders and politicians were in town arguing that alternative energy is just as much an economic issue as an environmental one. The way they see it, investing in clean energy through a combination of aggressive legislated goals for alternative energy use and tax incentives to those who develop and use clean energy products, creates new employment opportunities. "This is about the 21st century economy--a new energy economy," said Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter. "It is really about job opportunities."
All the discussion surrounding alternative energy hasn't lead to consensus on the role government should play in promoting it. Some argue that the government's current policy of providing subsidies to corn farmers who produce ethanol is the right course of action. Others argue for wind and solar power. Still others say that the government should provide incentives for clean energy production based on the power produced, without stipulating the method.
In his energy plan, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama has vowed to invest $150 billion over the next ten years to "catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future." However, he has not outlined how that money will be doled out, giving energy executives incentive to push their plans here at the convention.