Industry waits for clean energy commitment

Yesterday, April 22, was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

Yesterday, April 22, was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. And, it reminded me of several conversations I've had recently with people in the industry.

All three conversations revolved around a single question: What happened to all the excitement around clean energy? Interest was huge back in the summer of 2008, when gas pushed past $4 a gallon and oil prices hit a high of $147 per barrel. 

Expectations for investment in new energy sources grew further when the Obama Administration came into office last year, especially given the prospect of federal stimulus dollars being steered toward clean energy.

While some industries are still investing, many have been waiting for the big legislation that will “power” (no pun intended) the commitment to real energy change.

What's gotten in the way?  The answer is simple: Circumstances changed.

By December 2008, oil dropped to a staggering $113 per barrel, eventually hitting a low of $33.87. When the new administration took office, it established other priorities that were motivated, in part, by the breathtaking drop in oil prices.

The people I spoke to agreed that it is not if, but when we will again see significant interest and investment in clean energy. Today, gas prices are pushing toward $3 a gallon, which may begin to refocus public attention on the costs of conventional energy.

Even so, it appears that if there is going to be any movement on clean energy in Washington, it's not going to come from the usual places, like the White House or a congressional subcommittee.

Notably, Senator John Kerry, Senator Joe Lieberman, and Senator Lindsey Graham have come together and are expected to propose new legislation. The three senators have spent months courting constituencies on both sides of the aisle, but it remains to be seen if they will be able to get traction.

If they do, we may finally see the kind of movement in clean energy that befits a 40th anniversary.

Gary Stockman is CEO of Porter Novelli.

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