[pagebreak:Greentech Leaders, Government Officials Gather in Washington] As oil prices continue to smash records and the future of U.S. renewable-energy incentives hang in limbo, 6,000 government leaders and industry representatives from around the world are heading to Washington in the hope of finding common green ground.
The Washington International Renewable Energy Conference, or WIREC, kicks off with side programs Monday and officially begins Tuesday.
For many in the greentech industry, the event -- which continues through Thursday -- will act as a barometer indicating how much the United States and governments around the world are willing to step up their environmental policies.
"There will be a lot of conjecture, if you will, about the future incentives of renewable energy across the board," said Jim Pierobon, a spokesman for the American Council on Renewable Energy, which is helping to host the conference.
In particular, Pierobon pointed to the U.S. renewable-energy tax credits set to expire at the end of this year (see Solar Sharpens Weapons for Incentive Battle).
"How do you finance a project where that kind of tax credit is a centerpiece of a financing spread sheet?" he asked.
Pierobon thinks WIREC could help boost U.S. policymakers’ interest in creating more stable incentives by highlighting successful policies in other countries, such as in Germany, as well as the growing interest in green energy from governments such as China’s.
As part of the conference, WIREC has asked local and international authorities to submit environmental pledges.
By Friday, WIREC had received only one pledge -- one from the Danish government promising to reduce its use of fossil fuels by at least 15 percent by 2025, to grow renewable energy to at least 30 percent of its total energy consumption by the same year and to increase energy efficiency and funding for the development of new energy technologies.
With more than 80 countries participating in the conference, Pierobon expects more pledges to role in, including one from the United States.
The question of the United States’ seriousness about renewable energy will no doubt be an unspoken theme of the conference, said Ethan Zindler, an analyst for New Energy Finance who plans to attend.
"Are they going to demonstrate true leadership and commitment on these issues or is it going to be more of the same?" he questioned.
With the conference in President Bush’s backyard, "a lot of people are looking to see some hard commitment from this administration on climate change," Zindler said.
On Thursday, Bush claimed during a press conference that he had done more for renewable energy than any of his predecessors.
Indeed, some greentech advocates cheered in December when the president signed an energy bill that will increase fuel-economy standards in 2020 and require fuel producers to use at least 36 billion gallons of biofuel by 2022 (see President Signs Energy Bill).
But many others were disappointed that the incentives were cut from the bill, and environmentalists have long been infuriated by the lack of a U.S. commitment to curb greenhouse-gas emissions (see Senate Rejects Green Incentives to Pass Energy Bill).
In December, the United States was blamed for holding up international efforts to create a climate-change-fighting road map after 2012, when the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol expires (see Bali Summit Yields Plans to Plan).
Perhaps the greentech industry will get a better sense of Bush’s commitment to renewable energy at the conference; that is, if he shows up. The WIREC conference agenda currently has "TBD" next to a keynote address by Bush scheduled for Wednesday.