Fossil fuel interests, others are fighting alternatives, Obama says

Fossil fuel interests, conservative think tanks, and groups funded by billionaires Charles and David Koch are fiercely fighting a growing wave of alternative energy in the US, President Barack Obama told participants at a clean energy conference in Las Vegas on Aug 24.

He emphasized that it’s important to address legitimate issues such as distribution of generated electricity and costs. “But when you start seeing massive lobbying efforts…pushing for new laws to roll back renewable energy standards or prevent new clean energy businesses from succeeding, that’s a problem,” Obama said.

“Ordinarily, these are groups that tout themselves as champions of the free market,” the president said. “But in this situation, they’re trying to undermine competition in the marketplace, and choke off consumer choice, and threaten an industry that’s churning out new jobs at a fast pace…. They’re even fighting to protect billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars in corporate welfare each year that's going to fossil fuel companies.”

Oil and gas associations and other business organizations did not respond immediately to the characterization. The American Petroleum Institute has said in the past that the oil and gas industry spends more on alternative energy research and development than the federal government or any other domestic business sector.

One Republican congressional leader wasn’t as reticent. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (Utah) said the administration’s energy policies are increasing costs and reducing choices for consumers, especially in disadvantaged communities. “The president claims to be a champion of energy progress, but his record over the last 8 years has actually undercut the energy progress that has been spearheaded by industry and states,” Bishop said.

Obama noted that thousands of renewable energy projects across the country employ tens of thousands of Americans. “Today, America is No. 1 in wind power, generating three times as much wind energy as we did in 2008,” he said. “There are now more than 500 wind manufacturers across 43 states supplying the wind industry—an industry that supports more than 50,000 jobs and supplies enough energy to power 16 million homes.”

Solar power is making similar progress, generating 20 times as much electricity now as it did in 2008, the president said. “Last year was solar’s biggest year ever,” he said. “Prices fell by 10%; installations climbed by 30%. Every three minutes, another home or business in America goes solar. Every three weeks, we install as much solar capacity as we did in all of 2008.”

Federal investments have helped support alternative energy innovation, and should be continued, Obama said. “It’s thanks in part to these investments that there are already places across the country where clean power from the sun is finally cheaper than conventional power from your utility—power often generated by burning coal or gas,” he said.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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