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Green Revolution, Green Jobs Central to National Clean Energy Summit 2.0

by Lisa J. Wolf

LAS VEGAS, Nevada - Hosting his second annual all-star gathering of clean energy proponents at University of Nevada, Las Vegas on Monday, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada called for "a new revolution ... a clean energy revolution" to restore American prosperity and global leadership.

This solar concentrator at University of Nevada, Las Vegas generates power with a concentration of 250 suns. (Photo courtesy UNLV) Comparing the National Clean Energy Summit 2.0 to the original American Revolution, Reid told participants why the date of the meeting, August 10, is important to him.

"It was on August 10, 1776 the word reached London that the Americans had drafted the Declaration of Independence. The Revolution that followed set our nation and the world, but especially our nation, on a long journey towards prosperity and global leadership," said Reid.

"Today, August 10th here in Las Vegas we're firing the first shots of a new revolution to regain that prosperity and restore that leadership: a clean energy revolution that will create millions of jobs across America and thousands of jobs right here in Nevada," he said.

Reid hosted high-powered guests former President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore; the current Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis; the Assistant Energy Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Cathy Zoi; as well as Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; United Nations Foundation President Tim Wirth; billionaire energy executive T. Boone Pickens and John Podesta, who heads the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Podesta said he hopes that ideas engendered at the summit will enhance this fall's Congressional debate on clean energy and global warming reduction. The House passed the Waxman-Markey clean energy bill earlier this year, and Senate is expected to tackle legislation after Labor Day.

"We've learned in our past meetings that clean energy infrastructure works best when it works together," Podesta said. "Electric cars can use electricity created by wind turbines and solar power. A smart grid can efficiently bring renewable electricity from points of generation in deserts and plains to points of consumption in cities and towns."

"Efficiency in renewable electricity standards that affect the price of carbon pollution can create the incentives for sustained private investment that can jump-start American production of clean energy technology and the clean energy technology industries of the future," Podesta explained.

President Clinton's White House Chief of Staff, Podesta said he sees President Barack Obama as understanding "this fundamental point: all the elements of a clean energy economy rely on one another. That's why he's made transforming our economy to a clean energy base so central to economic recovery."

Energy Secretary Chu also called for a revolution, "a second industrial revolution." The first industrial revolution came with a "carbon dioxide cost" but "in the next industrial revolution, we must develop technologies that will enable us to get the energy the world needs to grow and prosper but "essentially reducing and eliminating the carbon dioxide," he said.

Chu said the United States has the greatest research and development centers in the world in universities, national labs and the private sector. "Once we get this great invention machine geared and going we'd be invincible. But the only trouble is, let's get it going."

Just back from China, Chu said China is "gearing up" to lead in the next revolution and is "going heavily into solar" and is "leading the world now in the highest voltage transmission both A/C and D/C" for "internal consumption" and intends to "be the leader."

"Quite frankly, the United States is still ahead of China and why don't we be the leader?" said Chu, a Nobel Prize winning nuclear physicist.

"We can take the leadership role," Chu said, "but "you have to send first a long-term signal to the people of the United States, to industry, that says 'yes we're going to have a cap on our carbon, and we're going to ratchet it down.'"

"If we move in this direction, we can be the leader and seize the opportunity. If we don't and just try to say, ‘No, we're not really sure this is all happening'" and "'maybe the climate isn't really changing,'" that's "wishful thinking and it's just throwing away this great opportunity."

Nobel Laureate Gore expressed confidence that America can accomplish the goal of his July 2008 Generational Challenge to Repower America - producing 100 percent of America's electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.

Gore said he sees "lots and lots of good jobs in this effort to Repower America" and said he has spent the last two years conducting 32 "solution summits" to brainstorm ways of meeting the climate challenge.

"We're going to have to come to grips with the fact that the climate crisis is threatening the future of our civilization and just because those words sound shrill is no excuse for not saying them. We have to face up to this," urged Gore. "We're putting another 70 million tons of global warming pollution in the thin shell of our atmosphere surrounding our planet every 24 hours. This is madness."

"We owe it to ourselves and especially to our children and grandchildren and future generations," declared Gore. "Who are we to make a decision to just keep on being so wasteful and destructive in the teeth of the warnings from every single prestigious scientific organization on this planet? Every single national academy of sciences in the world has endorsed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report saying we have got to act on this."

Praising President Obama for "making a down payment" towards that goal with his economic stimulus funding, Gore said many of the green jobs created by repowering the country will be in Nevada, and particularly at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Keith Schwer, director of the UNLV's Center for Business and Economic Research and professor of economics, said current unemployment in Clark County, where Las Vegas is located, stands at 12.3 percent compared to the national rate of 9.4 percent.

"Nevada is blessed with renewable energy" which will "become our export base" as "Nevada will be exporting energy," said Schwer.

Nevada has abundant sun, wind and geothermal energy sources and efficiency technologies that can be developed to meet future energy needs without depending on foreign oil supplies, he said.

Former President Clinton, whose William J. Clinton Foundation has been working with 40 cities to achieve energy efficiency with building retrofits, said "a $520 billion investment could cut U.S. energy end use by 23 percent."

"That's more than Canada's total consumption" and "enables us to do what Robert Kennedy recently suggested ... close 22 percent of our coal plants that are old and uniformly quite small. We could save half or more of the emissions coming out of coal plants in the United States," Clinton said.

Clinton said, "$520 billion sounds like a huge amount of money" but "the last time I checked about two months ago the banks of the U.S. had more than $900 billion in cash uncommitted to loans."

Clinton suggested creating a Small Business Loan Guarantee Program so "you could then go to a bank and say you should renovate the local hospital" because "a guarantee fund stands behind that."

Clinton pointed out, "If we'd done it for the $18 billion that was appropriated in the stimulus bill we could have financed $180 billion worth of building retrofits. Instead of 100,000 jobs you'd have over a million jobs.

Clinton said, "You've got to get the banks involved in this if you want to quit piddling around. We don't need 625,000 jobs gradually building over 10 years. We need three million more jobs today." He said we need to "prove to the American people we can get the 80 percent reduction [in greenhouse gas emissions] by 2050 while growing the economy not shrinking it."

Former General Wesley Clark noted the U.S. imports 12 million barrels of oil every day and burns 140 billion gallons every year.

Pickens said "When we're using 25 percent of oil in the world and we're four percent of the population" the price will become high or be cut off and "have a very sad ending to it."

Pickens envisions that 6.5 million trucks using natural gas would cut U.S. dependency on foreign oil by 2.7 billion barrels a year. Pickens sees this as possible in less than 10 years.

Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington remarked, "When you have an oilman from Texas saying that you need to get off of oil, I don't think you need any bigger mission statement than that."

Podesta foresees that with "supportive federal policies, huge shale gas newly available because of American know-how and technology" can "replace old dirty coal powered plants, dramatically reducing global warming pollution."

In a new paper issued Monday, Podesta and Wirth write, "Natural gas is the cleanest fossil fuel - it produces less than half as much carbon pollution as coal. Recent technology advancements make affordable the development of unconventional natural gas resources. This creates an unprecedented opportunity to use gas as a bridge fuel to a 21st century energy economy that relies on efficiency, renewable sources, and low-carbon fossil fuels such as natural gas."

"Natural gas can supplement wind and solar energy to solve the intermittency problem that comes with renewable energy," Podesta advised summit participants, adding, "a green bank can provide secure affordable financing to get new technologies off the ground and into the marketplace."

Gore said, "We need a price on carbon because carbon is invisible, tasteless and odorless and we're dumping it into the atmosphere as if it's an open sewer and, because we can't see it, it falls prey to the old saying, out of sight, out of mind."

"If we get a price on carbon then all of a sudden the advantages of natural gas over coal become crystal clear," said Gore, "the advantages of electric vehicles over the internal combustion engine become crystal clear."

Gore said "It takes more electricity just to run electrical appliances in American homes that are turned off than the entire energy use of the nation of Japan. That's how much we use. It's ridiculous."

"This wastefulness and inefficiency is just ingrained, and it has become a way of life," Gore said. The good news is when we make these changes" people "will make money, they'll save on their energy bills," and it will create jobs.

Labor Secretary Solis said she wants to change "that preconceived notion that green jobs are not for everyone or that people don't even know that they exist."

Solis said the "Green Revolution" can "encompass everyone regardless of educational attainment level, literacy level and skill level."

Terry O'Sullivan, president of the 500,000 member Laborers' International Union of North America, said 1.6 million construction workers are unemployed and he looks to the clean energy economy to create green jobs. "If it's not greening the environment, then it's not a good green job; and if it's not putting green in worker's pockets, then it's not a good green job," he said.

Van Jones of the White House Council on Environmental Quality said, "The values that underlie this clean energy conversation" are "the common ground values of America: clean air is better than dirty air for the health of our children."

"If we have the opportunity to fight both poverty and pollution by putting people to work in these new industries, we would be wise as a country to do that," Jones said.

The Obama administration is so committed to energy efficiency because, "We think this is the most fiscally-conservative thing we can do with the federal dollars," said Jones. "The dollars invested in energy efficiency "are humble, hard-working dollars. They work double-time, triple-time, quadruple-time."

Double-time dollars fund job training to create energy efficiency specialists, who install insulation that cuts someone's energy bill. Triple-time working dollars also cut pollution, Jones said, "because a coal fired power plant is working overtime because our homes are so leaky and waste so much energy."

Quadruple-time working dollars cut greenhouse gas emissions from the coal plants and "help us take asthma inhalers out of little girls' and boys' pockets."

Jones said conservatives should like these solutions because, "We're not talking about expanding welfare; we're talking about expanding work. We're not talking about expanding entitlements; we're talking about expanding enterprise and investments."

Reid characterized himself as a capitalist and said, "America is the center of capitalism in the world. With health care reform, no one's trying to make this a government run system. With energy reform we're not trying to make this a program that is going to be taken over by the federal government."

"If you look at energy, though, you have to recognize that government's been heavily involved in energy from the beginning," said Reid. "That's why in virtually every state you have regulated monopolies that control the distribution of electricity and natural gas."

Commending the dedication of summit participants, Reid recalled a visit to Gore's office when he was a U.S. Senator representing Tennessee (1985-93). There he saw a wall chart going to the ceiling showing the projected rise in greenhouse gas emissions. "This is something he's devoted his life to," said Reid.

"Boone Pickens could be in his personal jet going around the world having a good time," he said, "but this 81 year old man has decided he wants to try to change our country for the better."

Reid called on Americans to also be devoted "and speak out against these people who I describe as 'evil-mongers' who are trying to take our country away from us. That's what this conference is all about - changing the direction of our country and the world for the betterment of the American people."

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