A number of greentech industry insiders are cheering the election of Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama as the next U.S. president.
"It's obviously outstanding news for the clean-energy sector," said Ethan Zindler, head of North American research for New Energy Finance. "An Obama win, coupled with pickups in the House and Senate for Democrats, is really good news."
But Zindler added that not all Democrats favor renewables, and said a few more clean-energy supporters did win seats, including Republican Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and John Ensign, R-Nev.
That will make it easier to get legislation passed, he said, pointing out a number of occasions when bills to extend renewable-energy tax credits failed by only a few votes before finally getting approved in October (see Lawmakers Approve Energy Tax Credits, Bailout, Volley Continues Over Renewable-Energy Credits, Senate Rejects Renewable Tax Credits Bill, Senate Blocks Renewable Incentives Bill, Renewable Tax Incentive Still at Risk, As National Incentives Fail, States to Fuel Renewables, Senate Rejects Green Incentives to Pass Energy Bill and Senate Sends Energy Bill Back to Beginning).
"Sixty [votes] certainly seems achievable in many occasions, especially with the help of Republicans [Olympia] Snowe and [Susan] Collins up in Maine, who are definitely as supportive of this sector as many Democrats, if not more so," he said. "It's just going to be a lot easier to get the 60 votes to get things passed."
Ron Pernick, a principal for Clean Edge, called Tuesday's election of Obama "a critical election for clean technology and the broader greentech movement."
"I think that in many ways, it was a referendum between two different possible futures," he said. "It was very clear that although there were some things that McCain supported that may have been beneficial to clean energy, it was much more of a 'drill baby drill' approach, with 45 nuclear power plants and a disparagement of conservation.
"If you look at Obama's energy policies, it's very much a checklist of what many in the cleantech movement would be asking."
Among other green initiatives, Obama has proposed a carbon cap-and-trade program, which could limit carbon emissions and set up an auction to enable heavier polluters to buy credits from cleaner companies, pledged $15 billion annually for clean energy and called for a national renewable-energy standard that would require the country to get 10 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2012 (see Presidential Picks Cast Solar Ballots).
He also plans to extend federal renewable-energy production credits for five years, to boost the renewable-fuel standard to require the country to use 60 billion gallons of biofuel from nonfood materials by 2030, up from a current requirement of 21 billion gallons by 2022, and to raise fuel-economy standards for vehicles by 4 percent each year (see Ethanol, Farm Industries Split on Candidates and How U.S. Prez Candidates Could Drive Change).
Robert Wilder, CEO of Wildershares, which manages three energy indices, said he was "pretty excited" about the outcome of the election.
"We're looking at not just having, for the first time, a real cheerleader for clean energy in the Oval Office, but also at having a House and Senate that are probably going to be to the left of the president," Wilder said. "[Obama] has already talked about energy independence in a real way - it's not been the throwaway line we've gotten since Richard Nixon - and I think he really means it."
The question is how Congress will pay for what will doubtless be very expensive programs, said Wilder, who attended California's Occidental College with Obama and said he used to call him "Barry."
"Some pundits are saying it will be too expensive to implement [these programs,]" he said. "But if you look at a cap-and-trade [program] or carbon taxes, which some see as just punishing dirty fuels, they also can be revenue generating. Not only will coal get dinged by the weight of a potential carbon tax or cap-and-trade, but it will pay for some of these programs."
Wilder said he thinks Obama will be mindful of keeping new legislation moderate to avoid repeating what he called the mistakes of the first two years of former President Clinton, which he said ushered in a much more conservative Congress.
"They will be clean and green – far different from [the Bush administration] – and I think the country is really thirsty for this kind of change," he said. "It's amazing to me how desperate people are in America for leadership in clean and green technologies. But President Obama is going to be working to retain this Democratic majority far longer than the next two years."