Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Midterms

I've been very happy to see the Democrats win Congress for many reasons. But what does it mean for renewable energy?

Well, it certainly can't hurt. Yet, I suspect that there won't be major national policy changes. On global warming, public opinion certainly seems to be lagging the science (Al Gore notwithstanding) and a real commitment to reduce GHG seems like a long shot without presidential leadership. I suspect that the ever-popular "effort" to "wean America from it's addiction to oil" will mostly take the form of ethanol subsidies to ADM, which will do little but raise the price of your Corn Flakes and allow GM to paint itself green (or yellow, if you like).

Maybe I'm just being a pessimist but at best, I think we will see a modest increase in funding for renewable energy R&D and perhaps extension of the federal tax credits for solar and biodiesel.

I should note here that the latter is not necessarily a good thing. Kumar Plocher, the president of Yokayo biofuels, makes a compelling case on his Fueled For Thought blog that biodiesel tax credits as currently implemented are hurting, not helping, the sale and promotion of biodiesel.

Anyhow, the most exciting national election result, from the standpoint of clean energy, is the refreshing replacement of arch-ecoenemy Richard Pombo (formerly of California District 11) by wind energy consultant Jerry McNerney. Pombo claims that global climate change is a myth, helped to gut the endangered species act, and advocated for drilling in ANWR amongst many other acts openly hostile to our continued healthy future on this planet. Pombo also was the co-chair of the House Energy Action Team (HEAT), a house committee that ostensibly advocates for alternative energy solutions. Thus, even if Mr. McNerney does nothing, it will be an environmental victory. Of course, one can hope that McNerney's expertise and background will give him some influence over his new colleagues.

On the level of California, the defeat of Prop 87 was a bummer. I held out hope that the general popularity of renewable energy (not to mention Clinton and Gore) would win out over the flood of oil money that funded the opposition. However, the oil companies managed to convince voters that it would hit them in their pocketbooks, and most people like to complain about high gas prices as it is.

Nonetheless, this will not impact the California Solar Initiative (CSI) and the rebate program that it funds. California is still on track to be the 3rd biggest PV market in the world, at least. So thankfully, it's defeat will not cripple the progress being made; it will, of course, slow things down.

Finally, of course Schwarzenegger swept Phil Angelides for governor. I am grateful to Schwarzenegger for his leadership in pushing for the CSI, the Millions Solar Roofs program, and the California Climate Change initiative. These are very good things. However, there is little daylight between Angelides and Schwarzenegger on these issues. I am concerned that Schwarzenegger, haven taken a sharp turn to the left in order to preserve his political viability, could just as easily veer right after this election. It seems that he's pretty solid on renewable energy since he seems to view it as good for business and for maintaining California's leadership position in technological innovation (which is true). However, on many other issues I just don't trust the guy. At least not until he starts running his Hummer fleet on biodiesel.

Overall, a great victory for Democrats in this election. I sincerely hope that the excitement and yearning for change that characterized these midterms carries over to a serious re-evaluation of and change in our energy policies, which are after all at the root of most of the serious problems we face as a nation.

Time will tell!

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