Last-minute Budget item: cash for energy symbols
For three weeks I have been anxiously waiting for an answer from President Barack Obama. Not to me, unfortunately, but to my old friend Danny Kennedy, who recently met POTUS in the Rose Garden of the White House.
Danny Kennedy is a solar entrepreneur in San Franscisco. His company Sungevity has offered to install a US$108,000, 17.85kW solar PV system on the roof of the White House, which would supply 81% of its electricity needs. The Secret Service can even see a handy photoshopped image of the rig, to check the security implications.
The public campaign behind the solar offer, Solar on the White House, or ‘Globama’ is not merely a smart PR exercise. Danny and other ambitious green capitalists know that the political economy is built not just of steel and dollars but stories and symbols. When we change these things, we change the rules that shape political reality.
Anyone interested in building wind, solar, geothermal, energy efficiency and all the other related industries in Australia should take careful note of President Obama’s Globama decision.
The US clean energy sector is ramping up political pressure in 2010 and I hope that our demoralised, under-ambitious solar and wind companies follow this lead. Green business in America is ambitious and has the ability to sell a vision to both decision makers and Citizens.
Tomorrow’s federal Budget in Australia will almost certainly lack the environmental insight to be economically strategic. It will follow an illogical story about energy and resources. While it might provide some good support to the clean energy sector (either renewables or energy efficiency) it will keep us addicted to fossil fuels for base-load electricity and transport.
The cleantech sector has to take some responsibility for this policy failure. Where are the symbols that inspire and educate?
Clean energy businesses have not learned how to cooperate effectively with each other and the climate movement to explain the vision. The public does not understand the clean energy story, that renewables can provide base-load electricity.
It is important that the positive story for the public is accompanied by a negative one for the Government and Opposition. Every Budget that delays action on the switch from fossil fuels to clean energy, costs us prosperity, jobs and national security. This fact must be turned into political pain for Prime Minister Rudd and Opposition Leader Abbot, particularly now they are running so closely in the polls.
If the clean energy sector and the green movement shown better leadership and cooperated well, they would have the means to advertise and advocate powerfully. They should demonstrate that clean energy and clean industry are the ‘New Resource’ sector, waiting to replace fossil fuels, which are part of the old resource sector.
The mining industry is spending millions of dollars in advertising and PR to defeat the new super profits tax. Former Minerals Industry head David Buckingham debunked the industry ‘hysteria’ yesterday, but most Australians will still believe that the old resource sector holds up half the economic sky.
We all have an interest in ensuring that the new resource economy triumphs, because the old resource economy is killing the Earth and because nonrenewable resources are, by definition, running out.
As coal and oil become more scarce and expensive, this will drag the global economy into the mud, unless we have renewable energy industries in place.
We need a Budget that brings in an interim tax on carbon, as recommended by Professor Ross Garnaut, championed by Senator Christine Milne and supported by 72% of Australians. We then need specific industry policies for clean energy sectors such as PV, so they can grow from domestic to industrial scale, reliably and sustainably.
The Federal Budget is the opportunity for the political economy to give symbolic and financial reinforcement to the New Resource sector. If this Budget fails us, at least there is the hope that Globama will prevail in the United States. A solar White House would give us all a potent symbol of a new power rising, not a moment too soon.
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