Sputnik Moment: Historic Meeting Between U.S. and China May Spur a Clean Energy Race
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The results of all this investment into wind in the U.S. are already upon us. Texas, Iowa and California lead the country in installed wind capacity. To date, 20 percent of all energy in Iowa comes from wind; it marks the largest growth over the past year. In Texas, 25 percent of all energy comes from wind power. Wind farms in the Southwest and off the coast in the Atlantic have also ramped renewable energy sources. Across the country, wind as a source of renewable energy has increased four-fold over the past decade.
During the UN negotiations in Cancún, it was announced that the Recovery Act 1603 tax credit for renewable energy would not be extended. Peter Kelley, of the American Wind Energy Association, told AlterNet, "what this means is that the growth we have seen in wind in the past few years, which grew 20 percent in 2008 and 40 percent in 2009, is set to decrease by 45 percent due to the expiration of this tax credit."
Kelley is not only concerned about the environment. He sees the relationship between renewable energy and the economy, and specifically, job opportunities. "The wind energy industry," he added, "kept 85,000 people in jobs during this economic recession. As a result of this tax credit expiring, tens of thousands of layoffs will occur."
Yet Kelley's view that tax subsidies produce jobs differs sharply from the views of some Republicans who took control of the House of Representatives last week and were quick to dissolve the Global Warming Committee, established by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Representative Edward J. Markey (D-MA) in 2007. They refer to the national energy tax not as job inducing but as a "job-killing national energy tax."
"We have pledged to save taxpayers' money by reducing waste and duplication in Congress," said Michael Steel, spokesman for incoming Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). "The Select Committee on Global Warming -- which was created to provide a political forum to promote Washington Democrats' job-killing national energy tax -- was a clear example, and it will not continue in the 112th Congress."
It remains to be seen what results Chu's ramped-up program will have for the economy and the environment. Given last week's changes in the Obama administration and at the helm of the House, will the Department of Energy be able to ring in a new era committed to clean technology and renewable energy? Will it be able to be competitive in a renewable energy race?
In light of Hu Jintao's visit to Washington, the Sputnik Moment proclaimed by Chu could herald either a new era of cooperation, or of competition.
Tina Gerhardt is an academic and journalist whose writing has appeared in Grist, The Huffington Post, In These Times and The Nation. Lucia Green-Weiskel is Project Manager of the Climate Change Program at the Beijing-based independent Innovation Center for Energy and Transportation (ICET). Her work has appeared in Chinadialogue.net, Grist and The Nation.