Former President Bill Clinton challenged Americans Monday to make the United States a model of renewable energy use for the world to follow.
The gauntlet was thrown down by Clinton at the National Clean Energy Conference and would entail offering tax incentives for companies to build power plants to generate wind, solar, geothermal and biofuel energy.
Clinton also called for a new system to transmit electrical power to urban areas from many of the remote places where it can be generated.
"Let’s face it," Clinton said. "We’re not close, not even close, to where we need to be."
To focus the nation on affordable energy free of greenhouse gas emissions, the federal government needs to offer tax credits for companies to invest in large-scale solar plants and wind farms complete with a more efficient transmission system.
Clinton called on industry and government to re-imagine the economics of clean energy, which requires a heavy front-end investment. When installing a solar power plant, 80 percent of the costs are up front, Clinton said.
"But once you build a big, solar thermal plant or once you put the photo voltaic cells on your roof, it only costs after that 2 to 3 cents per kilowatt hour" to operate and maintain.
In other forms of power, construction of the plant has been largely subsidized.
"And that’s one of the reasons we have kind of a skewed notion of how much prices are out of whack," Clinton said.
Solar plants built in the 1980s are still in operation, he said, and because of technological advances, they operate at greater efficiencies. In addition, "The costs of operating them are not subject to the fluctuations that are inherent in the international prices of oil, gas or coal," Clinton said.
What’s more, he said, the nation’s addiction to foreign oil, which experts estimate is costing $700 billion a year, not only poses a national security risk but sends the wrong message to countries striving to become energy independent.
"For whatever it’s worth, I think we have to prove that this is good economics," he said inside Cox Pavilion at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
More than 500 people attended the event, which was organized by Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and co-sponsored by UNLV and the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Billionaire Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens along with several governors and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg are scheduled to address the summit today.
After Clinton spoke to the bipartisan crowd, a Republican attendee and former advisor to President Reagan said that while he sometimes differs with Clinton on approaches to solving problems, he doesn’t differ with him on goals.
"My concerns about defense and the defense of the United States are, in fact, part of what he said tonight," said Troy Wade, a former Department of Energy defense programs chief. "If we don’t do something about the economy and do something about energy, we’re not going to have anything left to defend."
Clinton said that U.S. citizens can do their share to cope with the energy crisis, from making older buildings more energy efficient to investing in hybrid cars. Simply turning off lights and offering discounts to electric power customers for running their washing machines after 9 p.m. would lessen the burden on utilities and help stimulate the economy.
He challenged Nevada to lead the nation toward energy independence by developing its vast potential for solar and wind power.
"I still can’t believe I land out here and don’t see any windmills," Clinton said.
"I mean look around," he said. "Maybe what you ought to come out of this conference with is a proposal to have the national government and investors all over America, say, ‘Help make us the first completely self-sufficient clean energy state in the United States.’ I promise you if you do, it would rock the world."
Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.Slideshow