By: Kim DeCoste & Gayle Dendinger Issue: Vision Section: Business
National Cleantech Initiatives
When former Governor Bill Ritter announced Colorado’s focus on “The New Energy Economy,” business and industry experts recognized tremendous opportunity in the state. Poised with the right economic and environmental resources, Colorado could take a lead in furthering innovations underlying clean renewable energy, while building a strong economic base in a relatively new industry sector. With a long and proud history in traditional energy, many in Colorado were not thrilled with the new direction and did not support this focus.
Colorado was one of the first visionary states to recognize that there might be an opportunity in the area of clean technologies. Beyond the positive economic upside, there was also the notion that exploring alternative clean technologies was a way to diminish our reliance on foreign oil. We had the triple-positive potential of being able to do good work, while doing something good for the planet, and our country’s security as well. What could be hard about that?
Too often, people perceive a vision as just an “ah-ha” moment—a flash of light that brings a great idea forward. A vision is basically an idea that may start as an inspiration, but only reaches its potential through thought, work and having people share the vision and build upon it, creating value over time. Few realize the challenge beyond that to really make that great idea come to fruition. Everything does not always come together at a point in time and work perfectly, in fact, it rarely does.
So, what are the components of vision and leadership? It consists of leadership that can recognize a need; can recognize an opportunity; identify like-minded individuals to help; converting individuals who are traditional naysayers; and being able to work together over time to build lasting value.
Recognizing needs in the new energy space has not been difficult. In fact, there is an infinite amount of data supporting the notion that the United States is a huge consumer of the world’s energy supplies and with ever-growing economies in places like India and China, demand will only increase. We know that that there is a finite amount of energy being developed currently in the United States. Therefore, it should not be difficult to make the case that all forms of energy should be explored to determine how they best fit into the bigger picture.
Founded in 2008, Colorado Cleantech Industry Association (CCIA) became Colorado’s only industry-led, industry-focused group, with a voice from the clean technology industry sector. Its mission is to provide public policy leadership, development, and education for clean technology organizations around the state. CCIA offers a single point of contact to negotiate and partner with governments, economic development agencies, research institutions, laboratories and others. Led by an impressive board that correctly brings together the best leaders in clean technology from every professional arena, academia, and public policy, CCIA speaks with authority and can carry the vision forward.
Recently, Tom Plant, senior policy advisor for the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University, acknowledged and recognized the work that former Governor Ritter did in contributing to this vital energy sector. Not only was progress made in the areas of research, development and application, but it also had a meaningful effect on employment in the state. Pew Charitable Trusts places Colorado as number three in the U.S. for cleantech venture capital financing; number four in the country for percentage of jobs in the cleantech sector, and Colorado is home to more than 300 companies producing cleantech products. Pew further states that Colorado’s cleantech sector is growing faster than any other in the state.
The vision has enabled the state and its business community to be able to attract meaningful employers such as Vestas, SMA and recently General Electric, among several others. These companies will be able to combine their resources and vision to align with the infrastructure that has already been built through the vision of their predecessors and continue to create a more robust economy. As for converting individuals, three or four years ago it seemed that people were in one of two camps, they were either pro-alternative energy or they placed exclusive emphasis on fossil fuel development. We are starting to see people come together to build a comprehensive plan to accommodate varied sources of energy and to begin building a structure that accommodates more of the alternatives according to their strengths.
As CCIA Executive Director Christine Shapard wrote, “For too long the ‘us versus them’ mentality between traditional energy and new energy and the political divisiveness it has engendered has taken the focus away from the more important issues of worldwide power needs, national security, job creation and international economic competitiveness. If we are to meet the power needs of the latter decades of the 21st century, we will need every type of energy source and efficiency measure to be economically viable and available within the United States.”
The work that has been done by NREL, the universities and tech transfer initiatives such as the Energy and Engine Conversion Laboratory at Colorado State University – Ft. Collins and others, has provided an outstanding foundation. Like-minded companies with more resources and even greater vision recognize the work and are able to provide support and direction for greater results and greater efficiencies. From the initial vision, countless other great ideas are spawned and momentum continues to increase.
The Colorado Cleantech Industry Association has recently expanded its reach through a new chapter affiliation of what is now called the “Advanced Energy Economy” (AEE). AEE is an outstanding example of collaborative leadership that addresses the energy issue from multiple perspectives with a diverse leadership team and board who approach the issue from different angles. Led in part by Tom Steyer, head of San Francisco-based Farallon Capital Management and prominent Democrat, AEE has an impressive and surprising leadership team that includes such unlikely members as former Secretary of State under Ronald Regan, George Shultz.
The coming together of these two unlikely partners has caused a strong bipartisan relationship to be born to ensure that California’s controversial Proposition 23 was not overturned in 2010 elections. Though motivated differently, Steyer and Shultz agreed that maintaining the energy standards California had implemented was imperative for economic growth, the well-being of the environment, and national security. Coming together in common vision does not always require common motivation.
Steyer makes a compelling case for alternative energies. In the case of AAE, they define advanced energy as energy that is “affordable, abundant and secure.” Steyer asserts, “It’s time to look at energy as a necessity for America, not an option. As global energy demand continues to grow, America has the opportunity to lead the world toward new ways to generate, use, and conserve this vital resource. If we do, it will advance our economy, improve our health, and increase our national security. Not to do so would be a tragedy.”
Expanding, therefore, on CCIA’s vision for Colorado, AAE is positioned to do the same at a national level. Hemant Taneja, Interim CEO says, “AEE will provide a unified business voice that can develop meaningful public-private partnerships at the state, regional and national levels.” “I am confident,” he says, “that this bottom-up approach is the key to building our advanced energy economy.” And so we see that this bottom-up approach may be what is needed with respect to driving the conversation forward at the national level. Steyer is the first to admit that a national standard dictating energy consumption policies would not be ideal at this time. As the industries are finding their way, regional and state policy makes more sense.
In an interview on CNBC’s Squawk Box in December, 2011, Steyer talked about energy needs and consumption practices in different states. He cites the example of Ohio vs. California. Ohio is a coal-based manufacturing state and quite different from California, which is a huge energy consumer, but has very little coal or manufacturing. He purports that the best practices for conservation and energy development will be born in local markets and put forth for national consideration, not the other way around.
It is also unfortunate that while some have the vision and the stamina to drive the conversation, and indeed the business itself forward, others continue to politicize these energy questions, making them polarizing and stagnating discussion on issues that matter in the quagmire of an election year. The vision that should be adopted at the national level is just as CCIA and AEE have put forward—explore all the options, exclude no possibilities, understand that any burgeoning energy resource is going to require some initial financial support through subsidies or tax breaks/incentives, but eventually, as we are now seeing with some wind and residential solar to varying degrees, viable options will inch closer to parity on cost with traditional energy. Then the consumers really do have choices and markets are expanded.
Nobody in the mix is advocating for government subsidized alternative energy to compete with traditional sources. Hemant Taneja sees an event horizon of 5-8 additional years, perhaps where some fiscal support will remain necessary. But then markets and consumers can decide. We just have to get the technologies to that point.
Looking at the leadership mix on alternative energy, we see the Colorado Cleantech Industry Association and the Advanced Energy Economy as truly visionary leaders. Sparked with a good idea, recognizing a need, bringing together the right mix of people, converting opponents into advocates and leveraging all the strength they can muster, CCIA and AEE reflect some of the best of America—vision driven by the will to affect meaningful and long-term change.