Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Clean Energy: A Bright Spot in Stimulus Bill

So Obama flew to Denver today to sign the much-discussed $787 billion stimulus package—thank you, Senator Specter—and while we’ll hold our breath waiting to see if it works, as a card-carrying environmental guy, it was hard not to smile, bad as the economy is.

Renewable energy was a bright spot in the bill.

He signed the bill at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, first visiting the solar panels on its roof with the youthful head of Namaste Solar Electric, a small Colorado company that installed similar panels on the governor’s mansion there. Obama saw the future, and it worked.

The stimulus bill “is an investment that will double the amount of renewable energy produced over the next three years,” Obama noted, promising it will “transform the way we use energy.” Included in the package are $5 billion for low-income weatherization programs, several billion to modernize federal buildings for energy efficiency, $11 billion for “smart grid” investments, $3.4 billion for clean coal, $2 billion for research electric car batteries, $500 million in green job training, a three-year extension of the “production tax credit” for renewable energy projects like biomass, geothermal, landfill gas and some hydropower projects, and tons of energy-saving mass transit projects across the country.

Two quick thoughts: First, Obama could easily right a longstanding wrong by putting solar collectors back atop the White House. Installed on the West Wing (photo, below right) by the cardigan-carrying Jimmy Carter in the 1970s, Ronald Reagan’s very first act as president was to remove those offensive symbols of our energy ennui from the rooftop. Putting them back would be an easy symbolic gesture.

Second, Obama’s done a lot right on the environment. But his one error is a whopper: clean coal is a classic oxymoron. It doesn’t work and is not shovel-ready. While King Coal is undoubtedly crowing, we desperately need to shift energy policy in a different direction, and we’ll pour money down a bottomless clean-coal mine shaft and one day realize it didn’t go very far. You watch.

We’ll continue following that story and report as developments occur. Until then, there is plenty of good green news in the stimulus bill.

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