There are a lot of venues where clean economy players network and do business. Michael Liebreich’s excellent Bloomberg New Energy Finance summit and Pennwell’s Solar Power-Gen come immediately to mind. But there’s nothing for cleantech like the National Rifle Association (NRA) or NAACP conventions – a place where political candidates and office holders talk to us because it’s a must-attend event.
The fact is that the political aggression aimed at clean economy businesses demands that we grow our leadership options.
We piloted an effort to change that recently with a first-of-its-kind roundtable featuring one U.S. Senate candidate (former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine) and some of the sharpest clean economy minds in the mid-Atlantic region. I don’t know that I’m in the “sharpest clean economy minds” category, so it’s good that I got to play host. Still, something novel happened during this meeting: Leaders from seven clean economy sectors got together with a political candidate who actually wanted to hear from them!
There was a wide spectrum of companies participating, including wind, solar, energy efficiency, advanced battery technology, offshore wind power transmission, financing, concentrating solar power, and clean energy project development. There were Fortune 500 companies with global reach (AES, Johnson Controls) all the way down to the four-person Secure Futures of Staunton, Virginia.
Participants brought more than 100 years of combined clean economy experience to the room, and the Governor came away clearly impressed by the energy and ideas they offered. I think we successfully made the case that pro-clean economy policies are good politics and policy, despite all the trash talking about the clean economy.
That’s because large majorities of Americans want clean economy sectors to succeed. They know we enhance our country’s economy, environment and national security. As one participant noted, if we get people in public life to understand that we’re “not a sound byte, we’re a successful industry,” then it becomes a lot harder to talk down American jobs. And, working with policymakers and candidates who are willing to listen will grow the leadership options we have.
The wind industry has done a good job at this, leveraging their job base to get a growing, bipartisan group of elected officials to stand with them on the Production Tax Credit renewal. That’s a positive feedback loop – but it has to be fed with more events like this one, and on a larger scale.
*Participants in the forum included: Gov. Tim Kaine (now running for U.S. Senate); Ned Hall, The AES Corporation; Tony Clifford, Standard Solar, Inc.; Mark Wagner, Institute for Building Efficiency, Johnson Controls; Markian Melnyk, Atlantic Wind Connection; Ray Henger, Own Energy; Alec Hoppes, AREVA Solar; Mike Healy, Skyline Innovations; Ken Locklin, Impax Asset Management US; Anthony Smith, Secure Futures