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Renewable energy advocates call for carbon-price tag

Here’s an article from our pals at the Matter Network

Washington, DC — A diverse group including investment bankers, energy executives, government officials and clean energy advocates came together in agreement that the environmental cost of energy should be factored into its price, and that Congress must develop policies that move away from fossil fuels.

The money managers on Wall Street, self-described conservatives, a Bush Administration official and energy company BP spoke as one in declaring that fossil fuels have gotten a free ride in emitting greenhouse gases, and that the day of reckoning is long overdue.

Speaking at the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE)’s Phase II of Renewable Energy in America meeting on Thursday, Katrina Landis, the Vice President of BP Alternative Energy said she is “looking forward to a world with an industry wide carbon price.” Landis, whose employer is one of leading sellers of fossil fuels in the world, said she favored a cap and trade system of selling emission credits over a carbon tax.

Landis, speaking at an event housed in and sponsored by the House of Representatives, echoed many of the speakers in calling on the Congress to act to craft more sustainable policies. She supports a federal renewable portfolio standard that would require energy to purchase renewable energy because “stopgap policies tend to increase cost.” The current process of one-to-three year incentives is frustrating consumers and producers of clean energy, she said.

Legislators should create bold programs for incentivizing the use of renewable energy such as California’s solar initiative because “the effective policies have been the agressive ones.”

Vijay Vaithesswaran, who writes for The Economist, says the U.S. must change its ways to set an example for the world in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Emerging nations can’t follow the path taken by the U.S., he said. Adapting a quote from Gandhi that referred to British imperialism to today’s environmental challenges, Vaithesswaran said “if every Chinese person used energy like an American” by driving an SUV, than “how many planets would we need” to sustain ourselves?

“We have to pay an honest price for energy,” says Vaithesswaran, who supports free market economics. He recommended that Congress create a revenue neutral carbon tax that would create as much revenue in the market as it extracts. Vaithesswaran did not recommend subsidies for cleaner energy such as biofuels, but instead called for an end to pro fossil fuel tax policies. “It’s not about adding subsidies but about leveling the playing field,” said Vaithesswaran, who recommends taking away the billions of dollar per year in federal oil and gas subsidies.

Clean energy advocates should convince elected officials that promoting energy that is less harmful to the environment is not a risk to industry but an opportunity. Janet Sawin, a Senior Researcher and Director of the Energy and Climate Change Program at the Worldwatch Institute said we “need to convince political leaders that renewable energy is about creating job opportunities.” She said that 2.5 milion jobs have been created worldwide in renewable energy, and that clean energy prevented 100 million tons of CO2 from being emitted.

Renewable energy is not only good for the environment, it is also good for investors, said John Cavalier, the Vice Chairman of investment firm Credit Suisse. He said the investment community is already planning for the cost of carbon emissions to be added to energy companies in the future. The “smart money is betting on a federal renewable portfolio standard,” Cavalier said.

Cavalier said the U.S. is spending $1 billion per day in carbon-emitting oil, with much of it being spent on imported goods that takes money out of the economy. Producing clean energy from wind and solar creates American jobs while also cleaning up the planet.

By 2016 annual global investmens in clean energy will be $750 billion, according to Cavalier. He said that there would be more investment if politicians could assist in creating stable demand for renewables. Many investors aren’t investing in clean energy because they “refuse to invest in an industry that depends on subsidies that are at the whim of [politicians].”

Renewable energy is also a good bet for investors because the stock prices are less volatile than the rest of the market, according to Michael Liebreich, Chairman and CEO, of clean energy investing information service New Energy Finance. Politicians should stop treating clean energy as a “marginal industry” as it is becoming a key economic driver, he says. In 2007 approximately 8 percent of all energy investment went to renewable energy, a figure that will rise to 15 percent, Liebreich said.

Another key theme at the annual event, which is focused on influencing policy making, was that caring about the planet is no longer polticially divisive. Instead of placing blame and trying to make it a partisan issue, Democrats and Republicans should find common ground in developing appropriate courses of action.

Andy Karsner, an Assistant Secretary of Energy at the Department of Energy, said that politicians and industry have (clmate change) “problem identification in spades, but not enough problem solving.” While defending the Bush Adminstration for its recent progress on renewable energy (citing the President’s “addicted to oil” mantra) Karsner called for more action on fuel economy and renewable fuels to reduce oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Karsner said that the government’s decoupling the price of oil from the price of renewable energy in purchasing energy is a “significant watermark,” and encouraged more people inside and outside of the political process to become “agents of disruption.” He said that fuel economy options for vehicles– such as biofuels and hybrid motors — should be as ubiquitous and as readily available ad mud flaps.”

ACORE will next hold the Washington International Renewable Energy Conference (WIREC 2008) in March of 2008, which will follow up on the policy recommendations of this meeting to suggest more specific goals.

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