The Shiny Copper Penny Plan for Energy and Cleantech

I wrote a piece last week arguing that McCain / Palin was my energy/cleantech dream ticket, and promptly got slammed by my readers on the left (who generally think McCain’s plans for the environment /cleantech investing are nowhere near aggressive enough and that Palin is way too conservative), AND friends on the right (who think that Palin is anti-Big Oil). There were more of the former than the latter since Cleantech Blog has been more of a progressive voice than anything else. I think I have published all the comments that came through on the blog (though not the emails), even those ripping me to shreds.

But pretty much everyone agreed I was crackers for one reason or another. So of course I’ve expanded the discussion, and am opening the floor to you. I am looking for comments that reflect at least one pro AND con for each candidate as the best candidate for energy / cleantech. Comments that only offer pros on one side or the other will be sent straight to the trash can.

Here’s mine to get you started – and while you’ll see my opinion come straight through, attached are the reasons behind it:

Barack Obama – Dubbed the Shiny Copper Penny Plan

His environmental and energy issues page

His stated plan’s objectives (editor’s notes in [brackets])

“Provide short-term relief to American families facing pain at the pump [How, by raising taxes elsewhere to subsidize energy and thereby support increased demand but oppose any increase in domestic production? Our gas prices are already way lower than Europe’s. The best policy I’ve seen to reduce gas prices is corn ethanol, yes the much maligned corn ethanol, which has reduced prices at the pump $0.29 to $0.40 / gallon. That plus CAFE plus domestic drilling, and we may have a viable answer. The real short term answer to high gas prices is break the back of OPEC as a cartel, but NOBODY wants to go there.]

Help create five million new jobs by strategically investing $150 billion over the next ten years to catalyze private efforts to build a clean energy future. [Despite the fact that this would likely make me quite rich (I have significant interests in several companies that could milk the hell out of this), I’m not really interested in massive increases in government spending. And let’s be clear, Presidents do not create jobs, you and I do. Oh, and Barack wants to get the US government into the venture capital business in cleantech. On what planet is THAT a good idea?]

Within 10 years save more oil than we currently import from the Middle East and Venezuela combined. [We don’t import a lot of our oil from the Middle East, it’s too far away, we get a large chunk of ours from Mexico and Canada :)].

Put 1 million Plug-In Hybrid cars — cars that can get up to 150 miles per gallon — on the road by 2015, cars that we will work to make sure are built here in America. [I’m a big fan of PHEVs, but right now the technology is just not there yet, despite all my electric car friends. This is definitely a shiny copper penny. I would rather focus on CAFE, car size, and biofuels.]

Ensure 10 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources by 2012, and 25 percent by 2025. [2012 is just around the corner in energy terms, virtually nothing the next President can do would really change our trajectory here. 25 x 25 is a good goal, and probably his best energy plank in my opnion, but he’s short on the details of how to actually achieve it, even at astronomical energy price increases. One main challenge is that to accomplish this, we need more clean baseload (coal, gas, nuke or hydro) to underpin it and lots and lots and lots of new transmission lines – which are 7 to 10 year projects in of themselves. And of course, it depends on what you mean by renewable, right now every state in the US defines it differently.]

Implement an economy-wide cap-and-trade program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. [I’m very pro cap and trade, but Obama’s plan is the high cost, unilateral way to do it, resulting in the most revenues to the government. The other issue here (which McCain will also face), is that even reducing the US impact on CO2 emissions is pretty much lost in the wash if China and India et al don’t commit to some sort of reductions (And of course if we do and they don’t the net effect is to push manufacturing jobs overseas. THAT is why neither the US Senate, the Clinton administration nor the Bush Administration, Barack Obama or John McCain has supported ratifying Kyoto (Hillary used to, then flipped once she figured it out))]”

The Pro

  • Clearly the most aggressively stated energy and environmental plan – if you like all green with costs taking a back seat, Obama is the way to go. But it’s very hard to conceive of cheap energy and aggressive switchs to alternatives.
  • Supports most aggressive climate change proposals out there – would definitely put us in the lead in solving the climate change problem – if you believe that us solving our part of the problem internally is more important than the world working to solve it together.
  • Supports long term not short term incentives for alternatives in general (as does McCain)
  • Would likely spend mega bucks on new energy techology spending and subsidies – great for me personally, bad for you and the country in the near term, possibly good for the country in the long term.

The Con

  • Very limited resume of actually authoring any legislation on energy or the environment
  • No experience in domestic energy policy
  • Anti- drilling (or was until he realized that like two-thirds of Americans support it)
  • Supports climate change plan that would represent a wealth transfer from the central US to the coasts and result in a several hundred billion dollar per year new tax on energy (that’s on the order of the Iraq war size)
  • Picked a VP with no real energy experience
  • Seems to have little respect for the cost of his energy plan to you and I – read Jimmy Carter all over again?

John McCain – Steady Wins the Race

John McCain’s energy page. His stated plan’s objectives (editor’s notes in [brackets])

  • “Expanding Domestic Oil And Natural Gas Exploration And Production – John McCain Will Commit Our Country To Expanding Domestic Oil Exploration. John McCain Believes In Promoting And Expanding The Use Of Our Domestic Supplies Of Natural Gas. [You may not like it, but most Americans do, and underpinning domestic supplies should be a part of every energy policy discussion. Tax the output at the pump if you want, but this country was built on cheap domestic energy, never forget that.]
  • Taking Action Now To Break Our Dependency On Foreign Oil By Reforming Our Transportation Sector – The Nation Cannot Reduce Its Dependency On Oil Unless We Change How We Power Our Transportation Sector. John McCain’s Clean Car Challenge. John McCain Will Propose A $300 Million Prize To Improve Battery Technology For Full Commercial Development Of Plug-In Hybrid And Fully Electric Automobiles. John McCain Supports Flex-Fuel Vehicles (FFVs) And Believes They Should Play A Greater Role In Our Transportation Sector. John McCain Believes Alcohol-Based Fuels Hold Great Promise As Both An Alternative To Gasoline And As A Means of Expanding Consumers’ Choices.Today, Isolationist Tariffs And Wasteful Special Interest Subsidies Are Not Moving Us Toward An Energy Solution. John McCain Will Effectively Enforce Existing CAFE Standards. [I hate prizes. The government shouldn’t be in the l0ttery business, but battery technology IS the ultimate force multiplier in energy and transport. Flex fuel, should be a basic requirement. See above on ethanol’s impact on prices already. CAFE standards, here is our near term transport lynchpin, I’d like to see McCain stronger on this.]
  • Investing In Clean, Alternative Sources Of Energy – John McCain Believes That The U.S. Must Become A Leader In A New International Green Economy. John McCain Will Commit $2 Billion Annually To Advancing Clean Coal Technologies. John McCain Will Put His Administration On Track To Construct 45 New Nuclear Power Plants By 2030 With The Ultimate Goal Of Eventually Constructing 100 New Plants. John McCain Will Establish A Permanent Tax Credit Equal To 10 Percent Of Wages Spent On R&D. John McCain Will Encourage The Market For Alternative, Low Carbon Fuels Such As Wind, Hydro And Solar Power. [Long term R&D tax credit, finally! This is part of a policy that has helped Australia punch outside it’s weight in technology for years. Nukes + clean coal, we may not like it, but it HAS to be done to baseload all those new renewables. Obama will figure this out, eventually.]
  • Protecting Our Environment And Addressing Climate Change: A Sound Energy Strategy Must Include A Solid Environmental Foundation – John McCain Proposes A Cap-And-Trade System That Would Set Limits On Greenhouse Gas Emissions While Encouraging The Development Of Low-Cost Compliance Options. Greenhouse Gas Emission Targets And Timetables: 2012: Return Emissions To 2005 Levels (18 Percent Above 1990 Levels)2020: Return Emissions To 1990 Levels (15 Percent Below 2005 Levels) 2030: 22 Percent Below 1990 Levels (34 Percent Below 2005 Levels) 2050: 60 Percent Below 1990 Levels (66 Percent Below 2005 Levels). The Cap-And-Trade System Would Allow For The Gradual Reduction Of Emissions. [See below, the most practical multi-lateral plan yet devised in the US]
  • Promoting Energy Efficiency John McCain Will Make Greening The Federal Government A Priority Of His Administration. John McCain Will Move The United States Toward Electricity Grid And Metering Improvements To Save Energy. [Investing in the smart grid and smart metering, now there’s an interstate highway style policy I can support. Smart grid is THE key to underpinning a generational shift in our power use or EV fleets. It’s our electric power sine qua non – without which there is nothing]”

The Pro

  • His energy plan is balanced, focuses on the force multiplier’s like R&D tax credits, batteries, and smart grid, and cleaning up cheap domestic resources like gas, coal, nuke, and ethanol, not the shiny copper pennies like a US Venture Capital Fund, PHEVs, and cool sounding names like 25×25.
  • Only candidate to actually author a climate change bill. It gets dinged for not being aggressive enough, but it is MORE aggressive than Kyoto, and probably the most reasonably practical one that’s come through Congress.
  • Picked a VP with lots of domestic energy experience (The state of Alaska is basically an oil company) who while pro drilling is not pro Big Oil.

Con

  • Legislative record on environmental protection issues is generally considered spotty. I’d like to see more balance here.
  • Hasn’t pushed CAFE like I’d like.
  • I’d like to see explicit support for a 10 year PTC (Obama supports a 5 year one)
  • Depending on your position, pro nuclear (which is a very climate change friendly answer, by the way), but often viewed as anti environmental.

So sorry folks, I think McCain’s energy and environmental plan is as spot on as any presidential candidate in a long time. Yes his record on the environment is “spotty”, but energy and environment always involve tradeoffs with economic and technological reality, and I think any balanced plan will look spotty to some.

My rationale for McCain getting the crown on energy and cleantech, because it’s real and focuses on the long term force multipliers that will keep us competitive, clean and safe in the most economic manner, not Obama’s shiny copper penny plan.

In full disclosure for those of you who don’t know me, of my two largest clients, one is an oil company, and the other is an all renewable power company. I have been helping them develop their solar and low carbon strategies and businesses. I have founded cleantech startups myself in superconductors and carbon, and stand to see more financial benefit from Obama’s plan than McCain’s. But that doesn’t make it right.

Neal Dikeman is a founding partner at Jane Capital Partners LLC, a boutique merchant bank advising strategic investors and startups in cleantech. He is founding contributor of Cleantech Blog, a Contributing Editor to Alt Energy Stocks, Chairman of Cleantech.org.

5 replies
  1. Neal Dikeman
    Neal Dikeman says:

    A few other articles worth reading before you start ripping McCain's energy and environmental credentials again.Huffington Post article of Sarah Palin on the environmen thttp://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/08/29/sarah-palin-on-the-enviro_n_122382.htmlThe Alaska state government's climate change sit ehttp://www.climatechange.alaska.gov/Interview where Palin states she does not believe climate change is anthropogeni chttp://www.newsmax.com/headlines/sarah_palin_vp/2008/08/29/126139.htmlBut McCain does / Interview with McCain largely on energy and climate change issue shttp://www.loe.org/shows/segments.htm?programID=07-P13-00049&segmentID=3

  2. Tom Konrad
    Tom Konrad says:

    Neal- It's all about urgency. If you don't think that Climate Change and peak oil are urgent problems, McCain's more economic approach of trying to get the most bang for his buck might be seen as better. On the other hand, ethanol is a half meaure which does help with the short term "problem" of high gas prices (I don't consider this a problem because high gas prices are the most effective way to change wasteful driving behavior… the real problem), but ethanol and lower gas prices just entrenches our dependence on liquid fuels… and there is only enough available biomass in the US (according to NREL) to supply about 25% of our current liquid fuels need. Why pursue this non-solution at all.Your point that Obama's plan smacks of "throw a lot of money at the problem and hope that some hits the right place" is accurate… the money could be much better targetted, but given that he *is* planning on throwing a lot more money at it, more of his money will be well targetted than McCain's. Unlike McCain, he has said that Energy will be a priprity for him in the White House. Given the scale and urgency of the problem, even the best solutions need to be pursued with vigor. Obama seems to understand that efficiency (reducing) is the first best course of action, while McCain seems enamored with the supply side (drilling.) Just think of Republicans passing out tire pressure gauges when Obama suggested that inflating tires properly would save more oil than all the offshore oil fields might produce.Neither candidate addresses the important issues of smart growth and electrical transmission adequately, but given the scale and urgency of the problem, I chose the candidate who will attack that problem with the greater sense of urgency, and given that the current crisis requires new ways of thinking, I'll take the team that is not wedded to the way we've always done it.

  3. mindmac
    mindmac says:

    Neal, your issues with Obama's plan are way off base. And yes, the US imports ALOT of oil from OPEC:This is an excerpt from the DOE :http://www.eia.doe.gov/basics/quickoil.htmlGallons of Oil per Barrel 42Barrels of Oil per Metric Ton (U.S.) 7.33U.S. Crude Oil Production 5,064,000 barrels/dayState Ranking of Crude Oil Production Texas – 1,087,000 barrels/dayU.S. Crude Oil Imports 10,031,000 barrels/dayU.S. Crude Oil Imports from OPEC 5,980,000 barrels/dayGet your facts straight before you criticize.

  4. Neal Dikeman
    Neal Dikeman says:

    Mindmac, it might help to actually read the quote next time. Obama said Middle East, not OPEC. Our direct imports from the ME are about 16% of our imported total and barely over 10% of our total demand, as most of our OPEC imports come from Nigeria and Venezuela, along with the non ME OPEC members, but with non OPEC nations Mexico and Canada providing the bulk of our total imports. Venezuela plus the Middle East is about 1 quarter of our total imports, and less than 20% of total demand.Regards,Neal

  5. Asa
    Asa says:

    Of course crude oil is a commodity, so to the extent we buy any, we effectively buy it from the full market, with the full range of suppliers. We simply end up buying a lot more Canadian, Mexican, and Venezuelan oil because it's closer, and therefore cheaper to deliver. Our demand helps set the global price, and thus drives petrodollars to the Middle East, whether they're "our" dollars or not.Will follow up later with pros and cons of energy plans — needless to say I come down firmly on the other side from you.Asa

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