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Remarks at Clean Energy Ministerial Public Forum

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

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Commerce Secretary Gary Locke
Remarks at Clean Energy Ministerial Public Forum

I’d like to thank you all for coming, and to thank my colleague Steven Chu for hosting this meeting. 

For much of the last year, Secretary Chu and I have been serving as international evangelists for the promise of clean energy.

On our trips outside the beltway – both here in the U.S. and overseas – we’ve been able to see up close the cutting edge innovations that American companies are selling abroad – as well as the tremendous progress so many countries are making in scaling up their own clean energy industry

And when you see these state-of-the-art factories churning out ultra efficient diesel engines or solar panels, you realize that clean energy and energy-efficiency technologies aren’t just a critical part of solving the world's environmental and climate challenges.

They are in fact perhaps the greatest economic opportunity of the 21st century.  Last year, global investment in clean energy reached $145 billion, and that number will grow exponentially in the years ahead.

Here in America, we see clean energy as key to revitalizing an American industrial and manufacturing base that once supported the most prosperous middle class in history. 

But for all of clean energy's promise, we all know there are plenty of people in governments, in business and in the media who question the promise of clean energy.     

They tell you that clean energy may be “nice.”  It might make us “feel good.”  And it might even be worth investing in.  But to imagine: that it can produce a “substantial share” of the world’s energy? That clean energy can be a “significant driver” of economic growth and job creation? …

Well, the critics say, that’s “just not realistic.”  “Just not serious.”

I say if the next few decades of energy policy looks like the last few decades – where America and the world’s will to act on clean energy has risen and fallen with the price of a barrel of oil – then the naysayers may be right.

Our challenge is to write a different story. 

To convince people of the urgency to act, and the potential of clean energy technologies to unleash a new wave of innovation and job creation.

The Obama administration and the Commerce Department have already made unprecedented investments in clean energy.

The Obama administration has:

  • invested over $80 billion in clean energy through the Recovery Act;
  • passed the toughest fuel economy standards in history; and
  • incentivized more stringent efficiency standards for buildings, appliances and consumer-electronics. 

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department has put its resources behind growing clean energy businesses at every step in the business development process.

Our Patent and Trademark Office has announced a pilot program that allows inventors who have already submitted patent applications for green technologies to have their submissions receive an expedited review.

Our National Institute of Standards and Technology is making tremendous progress in working with industry to develop standards that will support the nation-wide deployment of the Smart Grid. 

And we are working on cutting-edge research to facilitate more energy-efficient manufacturing and construction processes.

As we work to scale up the clean energy industry at home, Commerce is also playing a key role in the president's National Export Initiative, and we’re putting a particular focus on opening up opportunities for U.S. clean energy and efficiency companies abroad.

In fact, Commerce is working with the Department of Energy and other members of the Trade Promotion Coordinating Committee to create the nation's first “National Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Export Strategy.”

What we’re doing is producing results.   

One company that accompanied me on a clean energy trade mission to China in May is a perfect example.

During the trip, a Michigan-based company named United Solar entered into an agreement to sell 500 kilowatts of its solar laminates to a facility in China.

The project will bring the company $11 million in revenue, with over 95 percent of the laminates manufactured in Michigan and exported to China for final assembly.

This export success is the type of win-win scenario clean energy makes possible. 

The UniSolar project will create good-paying manufacturing jobs in the U.S., while helping China reduce its carbon emissions – and the world address climate change.

But for all the export potential we see, for all the promise we see in companies like UniSolar, we know that more must be done.

Right now, billions of investment dollars are sitting on the sidelines because of a lack of certainty in the energy marketplace.

Until that changes, we can't expect businesses and utilities that are accountable to shareholders to make a wholesale transition to clean energy. 

And we can’t expect more entrepreneurs to make investments in clean energy solutions that may or may not be self-sustaining in the energy marketplace.

This is why President Obama – along with entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate heavyweights ranging from U.S. Steel and Nike to John Deere and IBM – are pushing for the U.S. Senate to pass comprehensive energy legislation that features a price on carbon.

This would essentially put a floor under the price of fossil fuels – instead of the uncertain target we have today – and it would send a surefire market signal to every entrepreneur and business in America that it’s safe and profitable to make long-term investments in clean energy and efficiency. 

As many of you know, this is going to be a difficult fight, and there are plenty of vested interests in countries all around the world that would like to continue the status quo on energy – which would mean more pollution, less security and less economic opportunity in the years ahead.

The world’s failure to fully realize the promise of clean energy and efficiency is not because of a lack of potential.  Rather, it’s because of a lack of vision.  And a failure of leadership.

After a century dominated by fossils fuel use, it's naturally hard to imagine another way.  There are plenty of smart and experienced people saying that our energy future has to look a whole lot like our energy past.

But it doesn't have to be that way.  And in fact, it simply can’t be that way if we want to preserve our environments and grow our economies. 

With the right vision and the right commitment, we can build a clean energy economy that provides good jobs and sets the world up for decades of sustainable economic growth.

Everyone here today is playing a part in helping that future become a reality – and I want to urge you to keep pressing to keep the world’s clean energy policies moving in the right direction.

Thank you.