Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid joined Republican energy-policy celebrity T. Boone Pickens on Friday to drum up interest in a summit that aims to set an energy-policy agenda for discussions at the upcoming political conventions.
In a 30-minute teleconference with reporters, Reid and Pickens touted their views on developing more sources of energy and answered reporters' questions about nuclear energy and offshore drilling.
The session was meant to publicize the National Clean Energy Summit, which is scheduled to kick off with a speech by former President Bill Clinton on Monday night at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas.
The event, which ends next Tuesday, has assembled governors and federal policy makers, scientists, renewable-energy business groups and labor unions. Dan Reicher, director for Climate Change and Energy Initiatives at Google is scheduled to speak. So is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who will give the closing remarks.
Event organizers include Reid, the University of Nevada and Center for American Progress Action Fund. They are billing the summit as a chance to define and massage energy-policy ideas that could win bi-partisan support.
Congress this year has repeatedly failed to pass legislation that would have extended renewable-energy project incentives (see Senate Rejects Renewable Tax Credits Bill, Senate Blocks Renewable Incentives Bill and No Tax Credit, No Solar Power). With more calls for offshore drilling from Republicans, passing an energy bill in this election year that accommodates both parties' must-have items could prove impossible.
Two weeks ago, 10 senators – five Democrats and five Republicans – proposed an $84 billion energy bill that would allow drilling off the coast of certain southeastern states while eliminate tax credits for oil companies (see Green Light post). Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who doesn't promote offshore drilling, has said he would consider supporting it while Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who supports drilling, hasn't offered his support.
Reid, D-Nev., mentioned three times the need to extend a set of federal-investment tax credits for renewable-energy projects. The multiyear tax credits, which can offset 30 percent of a solar power project's cost, are set to expire at the end of the year.
"The No. 1 issue is: Let's get the long-term tax credit in place now. So that my friend John Doerr in Silicon Valley ... can put money into renewable energy and create jobs," said Reid, referring to the well-known venture capitalist at the Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers.
Pickens, meanwhile, pitched his now well-publicized Pickens Plan, in which he promotes substituting gasoline with natural gas and building more wind energy farms. He invests in both sectors.
The Texas billionaire who made his fortunes on oil launched his energy plan a month ago with a Website and media blitz, and has successfully injected himself into the national energy debate (see T. Boone Pickens Has a Plan and Wind Power Waiting on Transmission-Line Boom).
Pickens, who met with McCain earlier Friday to present his energy plan, said building more natural gas-powered cars and fueling stations would help reduce the United States' reliance on foreign oil. He positions natural gas as a near-term solution until better car batteries and fuel cells are developed that can affordably power cars.
"Al Gore wants to go to the batteries and that's fine with me. But we are not going to make a big cut in 10 years without natural gas," Pickens said. "Natural gas is a bridge to batteries and hydrogen - it will give you 20 years until you get [the right battery and hydrogen technologies]."
Trucks and buses that run on natural gas are already available, mainly for fleets. Consumers can buy the Honda Civic GX, which is the only mass-market natural-gas car available in the country.
The lack of a large network of natural gas stations makes it difficult to popularize cars like the Honda Civic GX. Pickens knows it and has pushed for government incentives to build more fueling stations and engineer natural gas-powered cars. There are about 1,300 natural-gas stations in the United States, many of them in California.
In fact, his company, Clean Energy Fuel Corp., which develops natural-gas stations, is a backer of a renewable energy measure on the California ballot this November. Proposition 10 calls for selling $5 billion in general bonds to mostly finance natural-gas-distribution projects and rebates for natural-gas-powered cars.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also plans to join the energy discussion - although not as part of the energy summit. The Democratic leader is scheduled to deliver a radio address tomorrow that trumpets the Democrats' agenda and criticizes McCain's plan. The address will be broadcast at 11:06 a.m. Eastern Time.
"America faces a choice: a continuation of the Bush-Cheney-McCain approach that perpetuates the failed policies that have produced soaring prices, or a comprehensive, bipartisan strategy that develops new and traditional sources of energy," Pelosi said, according to an excerpt of her address released by her office.