If Letterman Covered CleanTech….

by Richard T. Stuebi

Since he launched his late-night run in the early 1980’s, the staple of David Letterman’s show has been his nightly Top 10 list.

I haven’t yet seen Letterman profile the Top 10 in the cleantech space. (Then again, nowadays I’m usually asleep far before his show begins.) But, if Letterman were ever to explore this area, Shawn Lasser of Sustainable World Capital has already done the work.

In this recent article, Mr. Lasser identifies the 10 states that are leading the cleantech race. In his view, the Top 10 are:

  1. California, based largely on its dominant share of cleantech venture capital activity and its pathbreaking law requiring greenhouse gas emission reductions
  2. Texas, due to the boom of wind energy deployment there
  3. Massachusetts, owing to the research powerhouses of MIT and Harvard
  4. Colorado, as evidenced by the impressive growth in the number of cleantech firms and jobs
  5. New Jersey, reflected by its ambitious solar energy requirements
  6. Tennessee, given the two $1+ billion polysilicon plants being built there to support the PV industry
  7. Pennsylvania, giving credit to Governor Ed Rendell’s leadership in establishing friendly advanced energy policies
  8. New York, particularly for its energy cluster-building initiative, New Energy New York
  9. Ohio, in recognition of its manufacturing capabilities for wind and solar energy
  10. Oregon, mainly for Portland’s sponsorship of progressive environmental policies

The big surprise on this list is Tennessee. Frankly, I think it’s an overstatement to claim Tennessee is an important factor in cleantech. The two aforementioned polysilicon plants probably ended up in Tennessee mainly because they were likely able to obtain electricity dirt-cheap from the Tennessee Valley Authority – an advantage gifted to the state from the Federal government 75 years ago. These two factories do not a cleantech cluster make.

Although it earned an “Honorable Mention”, the glaring omission on this list is Michigan. This simply will have to change: in recent weeks, Michigan has lured General Electric (NYSE: GE) to establish a major R&D facility near Detroit, and the Obama Administration has granted over $1 billion in grants to advanced battery interests in the state. With NextEnergy being a key facilitator, expect Michigan to become a major player in the cleantech arena.

Looking back on this list, it’s not particularly humorous, so Letterman would have to be pretty darn creative in making a good schtick out of the cleantech space. But, thanks nonetheless to Mr. Lasser to providing some interesting food for thought.

Richard T. Stuebi is the Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc. Effective September 1, he will also become Managing Director of Early Stage Partners.

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