vote green

Somewhat clandestine converts climb aboard clean energy bus

Bill Clinton's getting downright green.

And he's not the only one. A whole slew of corporate magnates, political leaders and members of the establishment are buying into the economic benefits of energy savings and renewables.

In an interview in which Clinton discussed clean energy, jobs and how the two could resurrect the stagnant economy, he suggests increasing energy efficiency retrofits of government buildings and universities and decentralize energy generation by adding renewable sources.

"Big centralized power stations would be used for things like manufacturing," he says.

Making it work

Clinton advises approaching clean energy from a capitalist perspective with the questions: "How can we make a dollar out of this?" and "How can we put people to work?" He spoke with Aaron Task on Yahoo's Daily Ticker.

But the former president appears to be pointing out the obvious. The green clean energy movement looks as if it will rocket ahead without any assistance from the White House or Congress. Not that a nod from a jobs package would hurt.

In an interview with Smart Grid News that appeared on, economists Ahmad Faruqui and Doug Mitarotonda of The Brattle Group predict U.S. electricity demand will decline between 5 percent and 15 percent over the next decade. This despite an increase in personal electronics use. The two economists cite a "new wave of energy efficiency" where building managers and electricity consumers monitor energy use and adjust accordingly via new technology.

Solar bounds past setbacks

And despite the setback of Solyndra's bankruptcy and federal investigation, solar doesn't look to be slowing down. According to GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association's latest quarterly U.S. Solar Market Insight report, the domestic photovoltaics market grew 69 percent in second quarter 2011 from the same period a year earlier.

"The U.S. remains poised to install 1,750 megawatts of PV in 2011, double last year's total and enough to power 350,000 homes," writes

In a followup story,'s Eric Wesoff reports that the United States has surpassed the 1 gigawatt, or 1 billion watt, mark for installed solar and looks to pass the 2 gigawatt threshold next year.

Industry posts growth

Not too shabby. And prospects look good for that trend to continue. The Solar Foundation's latest study finds 100,237 jobs in the industry as of August 2011 and growth of 6.8 percent in August 2011 from the same period a year earlier.

Brian Keane, president of nonprofit SmartPower, says policymakers would be wise to study those numbers carefully. He says Solyndra's demise is outweighed by "countless industry success stories" and cites SolarCity's contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to install 160,000 rooftop solar installations on military housing complexes at 124 military bases across 34 states.

"The company hopes to fill many of those jobs with veterans and military family members," Keane says in a piece on Huffington Post.

Corporate buy-in

The corporate end is also making renewable waves. Behemoth Walmart, the No. 1 U.S. employer, has announced a plan to install solar panels on about 60 more stores in California, which means more than three quarters of its outlets in the state will be so equipped.

Kim Saylors-Laster, Walmart vice president of energy, says in a statement: "California presents a great opportunity for Walmart to make significant progress toward our sustainability goals."

Just can't beat that.

The Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps, a crew of 96 graduate students, worked this year with 78 companies, cities and universities to find energy efficiency measures. The corps found installed savings of 600 million kilowatt hours annually and total lifetime energy savings of $650 million.

And CalPERS and CalSTERS plan to invest about $1 billion in energy efficiency projects. "Kind of a big deal," says

Green crossing party lines

And on the political spectrum, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is shooting to the head of the green column with his policies and practices as he works to make one of the nation's most important cities relevant in an age of climate unrest. Shawn Lesser of the International Business Times says Bloomberg "has been instrumental in motivating a number of other large cities to make changes."

The New York mayor's top 10 list of clean energy initiatives has received a lot of press and likely will be scrutinized by other cities across the globe. Bloomberg severed his ties with the GOP in 2007 to become an independent.

And I'm not sure on this account, but I believe the wise investment in energy efficiency and energy management in buildings and manufacturing will attract other high-ranking members of the Republican Party into the ranks of green believers. And as solar and wind energy costs continue to fall, more likely will adopt a friendlier public posture to renewables.

Sean Patrick Hazlett of says other clean energy friendly folks in the GOP include presidential candidates Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and George Schultz at the Hoover Institution.

Lighting up the grid

Expect dramatic change in how electricity is produced, marketed and used in the next decade. Boulder, Colo.-based Pike Research says in a recent report that "the past decade has seen tremendous growth in competitive electricity procurement by commercial, industrial and institutional purchasers." It also says electricity is a $360 billion per year market in this country.

Everybody's looking for the best deal. Combine that with mandates like California's Global Warming Solutions Act, which calls for a third of energy generation to come renewable sources by 2020, and opportunities for purveyors of green energy will benefit. Investments made now could pay off in spades down the road.

They could tank too. Everything depends on the art of the deal, and that's why the entry of shrewd business people is a good thing for clean energy.

Clean energy worth billions

The evidence, however, mounts that this clean energy stuff may be worthwhile. Justin Gillis of the New York Times reports that a business consortium that includes Lockheed Martin and Barclays bank plans to invest about $650 million to install energy efficiency retrofits to buildings in Sacramento and Miami.

Gillis writes that many people believe the program could be worth billions. He says the consortium was formed by the Carbon War Room, a nonprofit environmental group set up by British corporate heavyweight Richard Branson of The Virgin Group "to tackle the world’s climate and energy problems in cost-saving ways."

I plan to monitor this industry closely and collect additional anecdotes that illustrate trends. I hope to see continued expansion, especially in employment. I tell colleagues to think positive thoughts.

Love American Style: Clean energy could solve the jobs crisis

"Love, American Style" presented life in simple terms.

Boy meets girl, faces dilemma then figures out a resolution. All in 5 to 10 minutes, with laugh track and hip music.

Apply the philosophy to the U.S. economy and two of the most powerful people in the Republic, and it would go something like this:

Speaker of the House John Boehner: "These excessive regulations are killing us. Corporations can't compete, they're afraid to expand domestically and my mother in law is coming to town."

President Obama: "John ... May I call you John?"

Boehner: "Why not? I'll call you Barry."

Obama: "John, this jobs problem has got to be addressed. Both sides of the aisle are suffering. We can’t solve all our nation’s woes. But we can help."

Boehner: "Gotcha Barry. I'll let you in on a little secret."

The pair walk to background, music cues up. They return, smiling knowingly.

Obama: "You got it John. I'll get Michelle to take your mother in law on a tour of the Pentagon."

Boehner (grinning hugely and looking a little sentimental): "Let's put America to work. Barry, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Reality is a lot more complex

Ah, if only it were so easy. But it's not. The real unemployment rate, including underemployed and those who have stopped looking, appears to be closer to 16 percent, according to John Cassidy of the New Yorker. And there's little hope on the horizon unless something as far-fetched as I have presented actually takes place between the two political factions that run our beautiful country.

Jobs are a big political hot potato right now. We need more. Government policy can help the process, but the private sector creates opportunity.

A straight-talking Chicagoan like Slats Grobnik might say something like, "Try clean energy. We can't keep polluting everything or our kids will suffer. Figure it out. Jobs will follow."

Always bet on green

Clean energy shows huge promise. Study after study has shown it has potential to put hundreds of thousands to work in a variety of tech, research, white collar and blue collar jobs.

Pollution and climate change will begin to assert tremendous pressure on industry, lawmakers and the everyday Joe Sixpack. Nobody wants to foul this great planet. Most -- excluding megalomaniacs and you know who you are -- just want a decent job for a decent rate of pay and a chance to raise healthy, happy families. (Again, I'm not talking about people who want to take over the world, like Pinky and the Brain.)

Give it a few years and I believe even fossil fuel "energy" companies will see the need to accelerate development of cost-competitive clean energy and establish market share. It's there.

My co-worker, veteran reporter Sandy Nax, offered this proposal in his post "Energy Efficiency Could Be the Next Big Thing."A large-scale campaign to cut energy costs would create jobs and save businesses and homeowners billions, or even trillions of dollars -- which could then be reinvested or otherwise directed into the economy," Nax writes.

Back in the Beltway

Obama's proposed American Jobs Act focuses heavily on launching massive infrastructure improvements, hiring teachers and giving tax credits to companies that hire the unemployed. The idea, Obama says, is "to put more people back to work and more money in the pockets of those who are working."

Boehner's response? Tepid.

But he does agree with Obama on one thing. Boehner says in response to Obama's address to a joint session of Congress, "American families and small businesses are hurting, and they are looking for the White House and Congress to seek common ground and work together to help get our economy back on track."

Obama says, "We can stop the political circus and actually do something to help the economy."

Plans, plans everywhere

Republicans have a blueprint for economic growth and job creation – Plan for America’s Job Creators. Its focus: removing government barriers to private-sector job growth.

Boehner says, "The proposals the president outlined ... merit consideration. We hope he gives serious consideration to our ideas as well."

Obama sounds conciliatory, although in his address he repeatedly called for Congress to pass his plan. He did say that every proposal laid out has been supported by Democrats and Republicans in the past.


Maybe members of both parties ought to visit Sesame Street. A heart-to-heart with Big Bird on why pollution is bad might inspire a green jobs focus.

I'm not talking about big feed-in tariffs to make renewable energy competitive. Rather, my thought is that the government free up business to pursue the greatest efficiencies of all and superior energy production from solar, wind, hydro and the rest. Programs like those by the U.S. Department of Energy to provide grants for promising technology ought to be continued, perhaps expanded.

Katie Fehrenbacher of speculates if the meltdown of Solyndra, which received a government-backed loan of $527 million and is under FBI investigation, could sour the administration on pursuing a clean energy agenda.

"But such a high-profile black eye could make the administration shy away from touting the industry publicly, at least for a while," she writes.

Let's stay off 'The Road'

I hope not. Clean energy is worthy of attention. The alternative is something out of Cormac McCarthy's "The Road," dark skies, no food and predatory humans.

I prefer this passage from Obama's address: "No single individual built America on their own. We built it together. We have been, and always will be, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Apple pie, flannel and bald eagles all the way. Just don't call me Shirley.