Senator Mark Udall (D-Colorado)
Senator Udall, who described himself as a long-time proponent of the expanded use of photovoltaic technologies, began by observing that his family used a 3.5-kilowatt PV system to generate electricity for their house in Boulder, Colorado, and that collectively such systems “can make a difference” in meeting the nation’s energy demands. He said that a major part of his responsibility in the Congress this year would be to move a comprehensive energy package to the President’s desk. “We are in the 21st century,” he said, “and we need a 21st-century energy policy.” He noted that the nation would have to accelerate its transition away from a fossil-fuel based economy, and would have to move quickly and with some focus. “There is no silver bullet for doing this. Maybe silver buckshot—with a lot of ways we can hit the target. In many parts of the country,” he said, “solar is going to play a key role.”
He listed some advantages of more widespread use of solar technologies, including the potential for new economic opportunities and improved national security. For the economy, he said, solar energy would be able to create “millions” of new jobs and provide a key pillar of the economy for the 21st century. Solar energy would spur innovation, he said, and create “a pathway whereby we’re producing clean energy in our country.”
He emphasized that despite the apparent advantages of solar energy, persistent hard work and effective communication are required to convince people of the advantages of PV. Senator Udall noted that in his home state of Colorado, he and other supporters of PV had struggled for years to pass a renewable energy standard (RES), but succeeded only after years of debate over both substance and
language.3 When he was first elected to the state legislature in 1997, he said, each legislator could introduce only five bills per term. He introduced a measure for consumer disclosure on energy use, a net metering bill, and an RES bill. When he first tried to gain approval for his RES bill from the 11-member committee, he won only two votes, in face of strong opposition from utility and fossil fuel companies.
A RENEWABLE ENERGY STANDARD FOR COLORADO
Senator Udall tried several more times, but the bill always fell short. In 2004, however, he and a Republican colleague framed the measure as a ballot initiative rather than a legislative bill, and traveled the state making the case for renewable energy. Their measure became the first voter-approved RES. It proposed the modest goal of producing 10 percent of the state’s electricity from renewable sources by the year 2015, including a 4 percent portion for solar energy. The state reached that target in just a few years. The legislature then reconsidered its position and passed a bill calling for a 20 percent standard by 2020. Since the RES was passed, he said, the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association had identified at least 1,500 new jobs created in solar energy industries.
Senator Udall conceded that this success had come in just one state and only after years of hard work. However, he had now transferred his effort to Washington, where he had been leading the fight for an RES bill in both the House and Senate. “I don’t think the RES we’ll pass initially will be as strong as I’d like,” he said, “but it will be a big step. And I think the states will buy the idea of setting that kind of goal, which Americans are good at doing when we focus.”
PV AS A NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUE
Senator Udall said that a second reason to pass clean energy legislation was the benefit of renewable energy for national security. From his perspective as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he said, he saw the advantage of reducing the country’s dependence on foreign oil. “We have to keep reminding ourselves,” he said, “that this is a critical step.” He emphasized American petroleum dependence on Russia, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, and other countries. He also noted the “huge amount of resources” in time, energy, and opportunity costs that the country spends in defending its petroleum supply lines worldwide. He also described “a more direct tie to our national security” in the form of the daily stresses faced by the troops themselves in procuring and transporting the fuel and water they need daily. He said that attacks on American
3A renewable energy standard is a regulation that requires the increased production of energy from renewable energy sources, such as wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal sources. About half the states have implemented an RES, as have Britain, Italy, and Belgium.
troops in Iraq and Afghanistan often occur in convoy settings when the military is moving fuel supplies and other resources to the troops. The military itself is working hard on PV research, already issuing small solar panels, because they represent a distributed form of energy and hence do not have the same protection challenges in the battlefield. “The military knows better than any institution the need for clean energy supplies,” he said.
Despite the advantages of renewable energy, he said, sustained local, state, and federal efforts are required to transform the nation’s energy industry. He offered a quote from Ernest Moniz, professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and former Under Secretary of Energy: “The energy industry is a multitrillion-dollar-per-year, highly capitalized commodity business—with exquisite supply chains, providing essential services at all levels of society. This leads to a system with considerable inertia, aversion to risk, extensive regulation, and complex politics.” To change this system, said Senator Udall, would require innovative structures, such as partnerships that were designed to perform research more efficiently, lower manufacturing costs, and help solar companies across the financial “valley of death” between the laboratory and the marketplace. Other industries had done this, he said, and provided models and analogs that could now be useful for the PV industry. One kind of model is SEMATECH, he said, which supports the semiconductor industry. Another is the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, a research consortium of universities (the Colorado School of Mines, Colorado State University, and the University of Colorado at Boulder) and government (the National Renewable Energy Laboratory [NREL]). The new collaboratory, created by the state legislature, works with private sector groups and draws on other universities and community colleges. “Anything goes,” he said, “as long as it is improving energy efficiency.”
He closed with the admonition that many other nations are working as hard as they can to gain an economic and technical edge in renewable energy. As an example, he cited the French minister of sustainable development’s recent comment that a new French solar manufacturing project would act as a magnet to attract further solar investments and green jobs to France.
“I know we can compete,” he concluded, “and we want the clean energy manufacturing base to be here in the United States. We want to sell the technology to other countries, not vice versa. We can’t do anything more patriotic than driving the manufacturing, the products, and the leadership role of this new clean energy space.”