Vice President Joe Biden warned Tuesday that America is in danger of falling behind in developing renewable energy unless the nation continues to invest in innovative projects.
China is now No. 1 in the world, followed by Germany and then the United States, Biden said.
"We're either going to lead or follow," the vice president said in a speech to about 750 people attending a clean energy summit in Las Vegas. "Does anyone believe that renewable energy isn't absolutely necessary ... if we're going to survive?"
Biden dismissed Republican critics who have derided federal subsidies such as grants and tax credits for green energy projects as a waste of money and as government interference in a competitive energy marketplace where private enterprise should lead the way.
"We're only providing seed money" to help take ideas from the lab to the real world, Biden said in promoting what he said is government's vital role. "This isn't science fiction. This is within our grasp."
The vice president said one U.S. tax credit program that contributed $2.3 billion has helped leverage $5.4 billion in private investment. He said 60,000 jobs support those projects.
In another case, $100 million in private investment has rolled in for five companies that got grants ranging from $1.5 million to $6 million since 2009. The money went to develop advanced batteries, innovative new approaches to biofuels or waste heat recovery, he said.
Biden was speaking at the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 at Aria at CityCenter . Energy Secretary Steven Chu also spoke at the gathering, hosted by U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Both Reid and Chu said renewable energy such as wind, solar and geothermal power may become competitive with fossil fuel energy in the near future, perhaps in 10 to 20 years. Then the United States won't have to rely on oil imports and coal, and whole cities could be powered by clean energy.
Biden said not investing in renewable energy now would be one of the worst mistakes the United States could make. He compared today's modern-day international race for renewable energy innovation to the race to reach the moon a half century ago.
"Innovation and energy will go on whether or not we join, and no nation which expects to be a leader of other nations can fall behind," Biden said.
"No previous generation has had that debate about whether we're going to lead the world," Biden said. "In the words of President (Barack) Obama, we're the ones we've been waiting for."
Even before Biden's 20-minute speech, the Republican National Committee criticized the White House's energy priorities.
"The Obama Administration's energy policy has been defined by soaring gas prices and taxpayer money wasted on green job initiatives that have failed to put people to work," RNC spokesman Ryan Mahoney said.
"President Obama and Vice President Biden continue to promise big things from the green jobs sector, but true to form, their rhetoric has failed to produce results," Mahoney said. "The truth is, Barack Obama and Joe Biden have no cohesive energy plan to create jobs or control energy prices."
Contact reporter Laura Myers at email@example.com or 702-387-2919. Follow @lmyerslvrj on Twitter.