By Jeff St. John
President-elect Barack Obama on Thursday called for doubling the nation's renewable energy production over the next three years, setting a timeline to one green piece of his economic stimulus plan.
Obama also called for funding to modernize the nation's electricity grid and make 75 percent of all federal buildings and up to 2 million American homes more energy efficient.
"In the process, we will put Americans to work in new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced – jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings; and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to even more jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain," Obama said Thursday in a speech at George Mason University.
Obama has pledged three million new jobs with his stimulus plan, which also includes tax cuts, investment in computerizing medical records, modernizing schools and universities, repairing roads and bridges and expanding broadband access to rural towns.
As for measures to promote renewable energy and other green industries, Obama has yet to release further details of his plan, which could call for as much as $800 billion over two years in tax cuts and spending.
But he warned that without quick action by Congress, the country could see a years-long recession leading to double-digit unemployment and the loss of $1 trillion in economic activity.
How green Obama's plan may be has been the subject of much speculation. Michigan lawmakers have said the stimulus plan might include billions in funding for advanced vehicle and advanced battery research, The Detroit News has reported.
Obama also has previously called for instituting a national renewable portfolio standard that would require the nation to get 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025.
But that will take some doing, given that the country got only about 7 percent of its energy from renewables in 2006, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Of that 7 percent share, 90 percent comes from hydroelectric dams and biomass power generation projects. Wind power accounts for only 4 percent, and solar about 1 percent, making the two renewable energy resources responsible for less than one-half of one percent of the nation's power supply.
Obama's call to improve the energy efficiency of federal buildings and 2 million American homes fits in with one of the green priorities of Steven Chu, Obama's nominee for Energy Secretary (see Obama Names Energy and Environment Leaders and Obama Creates an Energy Policy Troika).
As director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Chu has been a long-time proponent of improving building energy efficiencies, as well as developing new renewable energy technologies.
Josh Becker, a partner at New Cycle Capital who has close ties to Washington, has said that Obama will probably make a big push on weatherization programs to retrofit low-income housing for energy efficiency.
Green industry groups have put forward long wish lists of what they'd like to see from the incoming Obama administration and Congress (see What the Green Industry Wants From Obama).
Solar, wind, biomass and hydroelectric power producers want Congress to provide cash payments in lieu of tax credits now available for building renewable energy power plants or producing cleaner energy (see Industry Groups Call for Changes to Federal Incentives).
And smart grid companies want federal grants for projects to modernize the nation's electricity grid, as well as tax credits for companies that use so-called smart meters or devices and software to reduce power use (see Smart Grid Coalition Seeks Tax Breaks for Negawatts).