ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Robert F. Kennedy Jr. delivered a rousing speech that called for a national build-out of renewable energy production and transmission, a talk that got him a standing ovation at Solar Power International in Anaheim Wednesday.
Kennedy, an attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and a partner at VantagePoint Venture Partners, positioned himself as an advocate for environmental protection and clean energy businesses.
He won the audience over with anecdotes about his legal fights against coal interests and personal tales about going solar.
"Of all the subversive things I've done, the greentech thing I'm doing is the most subversive," Kenney said. "We are going to democratize the energy system in this country and take it away from incumbents in the next 10 years."
Kennedy is a big supporter of solar farms and highlighted Oakland-based BrightSource Energy – a VantagePoint portfolio company – in his speech. BrightSource is developing 2.6 gigawatts of solar thermal power plants in California and southwestern states.
He said projects like BrightSource's are important for boosting renewable energy generation quickly in the country. He also voiced his objection to a bill being worked on by Sen. Dianne Feinstein to set a large track of land in California's Mojave Desert as a national monument, a designation that would prevent power plant development.
BrightSource was among many solar power project developers that were looking at building solar farms on that piece of land, but it has since pulled out (see BrightSource Energy Ditches Project in Eastern Majove).
"Sen. Feinstein has a bill that is trying to take a lot of land off the table, and we shouldn't let it happen," Kennedy said. He said such legislative move isn't wise given that there hasn't been a good analysis of what tracks of federal land is suitable for renewable energy development and what lots should be avoided for species protection.
Feinstein is seeking to protect about 600,000 acres that were donated by the Wildlands Conservancy, which had expected the land to be protected fro development, said the conservancy's executive director David Myers in a recent interview.
"Senator Feinstein recognizes the importance of developing renewable energy and strongly supports solar. But she also recognizes the importance of honoring the federal government's promise to conserve these lands," said Gil Duran, Feinstein's communications director, in an email.
Kennedy said a key way to stop the big expansion of fossil-fuel power plants is to promote the decoupling of the utilities' profits from sales, so that there are no incentives to increase the amount of power they sell.
He noted that the federal stimulus package passed in February this year had provisions aimed at promoting the decoupling concept. Governors who accept the stimulus money must sign an affidavit saying he would do all he can to put decoupling in place.
Kennedy not only railed against the coal industry, he also characterized China as a big competitor for the United States in the energy equipment market, a comparison that might be at odds at a solar conference with a strong contingency of Chinese manufacturers (Trina Solar's name is on the freebie bags given to conference attendees).
"We are in an arms race with the Chinese. It's not over tanks and planes, but who is going to build more solar panels, and build them more efficiently," said Kennedy, who added that Chinese manufacturers are going to "flood the market" with their goods.