Third Way Perspectives
Archive for the ‘Clean Energy Program’ Category
May 15th, 2013
Energy policy is difficult to move, in part because there’s really no such thing as a “must-pass” energy bill. It doesn’t carry the same urgency or institutionalized process as certain annual taxing and spending bills, and it certainly doesn’t generate the same passion in the electorate as health care, immigration, or other social policy priorities. Let’s face it…energy policy is the stowaway, not the train. You can slip a discrete energy policy into a larger vehicle, as we saw with the PTC’s inclusion in the fiscal cliff deal. But building a large, comprehensive energy bill in this political era is basically the equivalent of a dozen stowaways standing by the tracks deciding to tie themselves together. Good luck with that, guys.
Recent movement of hydropower and efficiency bills, along with bipartisan support for master limited partnerships and ARPA-E, has shown us the potential for passing targeted energy legislation in this Congress. Perhaps these particular issues are unique in that they tend to gin up relatively little controversy. But an incremental and targeted approach can be effective with contentious policies as well. Returning to our earlier example, the PTC for wind has become a target of hyper-conservative groups in recent years. Yet a significant block of Republican lawmakers, including tea party favorites like Steve King and freshman class president Kristi Noem supported the extension. To be precise, they actually FOUGHT for it, pressuring their leadership and colleagues to move the provision. Focusing solely on the PTC for wind allowed geography to trump partisanship. This prioritizing of parochial issues over political ideology is a well-known phenomenon in energy policy, and it has often provided opportunities for compromise and progress in Congress. But the influence of the “geography effect” is diminished once the policy in question is merged with others that are of less interest or that present a conflict for lawmakers.
For the House and Senate, the strategy that seems to be showing the most promise is to keep it simple (and practical), stupid. Smart policy initiatives will minimize variables that give lawmakers a reason (or an excuse) to vote against clean energy interests that matter to folks back home. And they will take advantage of unique coalitions that each individual issue can bring to the table based on geography, local economies, etc. Legislators can also encourage the Administration to continue its use of executive orders to increase efficiency and clean energy procurement within federal agencies, and to pursue collaborations with industry to iron-out regulatory hurdles that could slow the adoption of clean technologies.
The bottom line is, there is plenty to be done. It just can’t be done all at once. So pick your spot on the apple and start taking a bite.
This piece was originally published in the National Journal Energy Experts Blog.
May 1st, 2013
Comprehensive tax reform is long overdue, but it’s also going to be difficult and may not happen during this, or even the next, session of Congress. In the meantime, we can’t hold up other tax code fixes, especially in vital areas, such as energy. The MLP Parity Act, a fix to our unequal tax code, shouldn’t be delayed just because it doesn’t fix all of the problems with our current tax code.
As it stands now, the government is implicitly telling investors what to invest their money in. Master limited partnerships are attractive investments, passing profits through to investors without being taxed at a corporate level. This appealing financial structure draws in more capital and lowers the cost of capital for projects owned by an MLP. Unfortunately, under our current tax code, qualifying projects are generally oil and gas related – pipelines, extraction, refining or exploration – excluding many types of energy, from biomass to nuclear to wind. As a result, a project such as a wind farm is less attractive to investors and must offer a higher return than a comparable natural gas project.
This bias in the tax code unfairly picks energy winners and losers, incentivizing the types of energy projects that were common in 1981 when master limited partnerships were first created. Although our fuel supply has changed, the tax code has not, leaving clean energy out of the investment pool. While it may not fix all the inequity in our arcane and complex tax code, the MLP Parity Act is a much needed first step towards an even playing field for our energy future.
This piece was originally featured in National Journal.
April 29th, 2013
By: Woei Ling Leow* and Ryan Fitzpatrick
The tragic losses of Apollo 1 did not petrify the U.S. and derail the Moon Shot program. The collapse of Henry Ford’s first car company did not mean that the world would never want his product. And the demise of Fisker does not condemn the electric vehicle (EV) to certain failure.
If anything, Apollo 1 strengthened the resolve of those involved to do better. It also provided NASA with information and experience that would one day be critical to successfully landing Apollo 11 on the moon and ensuring the safe return of the Apollo 13 crew despite overwhelming odds. Apollo 1 was a great teacher, and perhaps its biggest lesson is that a nation cannot be held back by individual losses if it intends to achieve greatness.
Yes, Fisker is in the tank. But like Apollo 1, lessons will be learned from this failure. For one, future entrepreneurs and venture capitalists will take note of business strategies that are helping Fisker’s competitors succeed. For instance, Fisker focused on body styling and depended on other companies for technology. Tesla, on the other hand, developed its own technology that eventually brought in revenue streams through partnerships with Toyota and Daimler.
March 27th, 2013
Our nation’s history is proof that manufacturing jobs lead to middle-class growth. At roughly the same time manufacturing’s share of the total workforce dropped from 20% to 9%, the middle class has shrunk from 61% of the U.S. population to 51%. While the U.S. manufacturing sector has recovered 500,000 jobs since early 2010, a major opportunity is surfacing in the clean energy sector. A $7 trillion clean energy market is developing around the world, and clean energy manufacturing provides an opportunity to renew and modernize our manufacturing sector.
The Obama Administration is already moving to help companies seize the clean energy opportunities. The Department of Energy is launching a new Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative (CEMI), focused on growing American manufacturing of clean energy products. Led by Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, the initiative includes modern analysis of the global clean energy manufacturing supply chain to inform the Department’s future funding decisions. This is a program that will empower companies to use our nation’s competitive advantages for their and America’s gain. It is ensuring our government is the most-well-informed government in the world and can help American companies out-compete the likes of China, South Korea, or Germany.
February 15th, 2013
By W. L. Leow
In some circles in Washington, DC, the future of electric vehicles (EV) has become as hot a topic as sequestration or immigration reform. Some skeptical journalists and policymakers are rushing to declare the entire electric vehicle sector a mistake or failure at the first sign of difficulties. Their rhetoric is cogent, writing lucid, and numbers seem compelling. At first glance, the fact that Americans bought just 71,000 plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles in the past two years might make the EV look like a failure. The emergence of EVs, however, needs to be viewed from the framework of technology adoption and diffusion, rather than raw numbers or road trips, to tell the true story.