Pataki: Despite 'green fatigue,' the future is in cleantech infrastructure

Despite a wave of "green fatigue" that has swept over the United States, the future is in cleantech, said former New York governor George Pataki on Tuesday.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

NEW YORK -- Despite a wave of "green fatigue" that has swept over the United States, the future is in cleantech, said former New York governor George Pataki on Tuesday.

Taking the stage at the Cleantech Group's Forum New York 2010, Pataki railed against the decisions made under the administration of U.S. president Barack Obama in the wake of a global recession, saying that its "government activism" -- specifically the $38 billion earmarked in the stimulus package for cleantech -- has left a nation "dissatisfied."

"We were promised all these green jobs and it didn't happen," Pataki said. "We were promised we would reduce our dependence on foreign oil and it didn't happen. We were promised a cleanup of the environment and it didn't happen."

Pataki, who now serves as counsel for white shoe law firm Chadbourne and Parke, called himself "an optimist" but criticized the current administration for policies that "have created an enormous challenge gong forward."

"Thirty-eight billion was set aside for cleantech," Pataki said. "At this point, less than $1.2 billion has gone out the door, and the Department of Energy estimates that it will be six years before the bulk of that money goes out."

But "the 21st century is reliant on cleantech," and Pataki said to an audience of financial investors that they should not look to Washington, D.C. but "be a lot smarter" in their approach to clean technology.

"Efficiencies are still out there, and companies that are providing greater efficiencies -- smarter buildings, smarter appliances, time-of-day pricing -- are still [sound bets]," Pataki said.

Pataki outlined some short-term predictions for the sector.

Among them:

  • Continued investment in green energy projects "that are driven by utility PPAs and state RPS programs."
  • Continued investment in the smart grid. "If you look to rationalize the grid, you're going to see efforts to reduce those peak loads not just in demand-side management but in time-of-day pricing."
  • Utility shakeup. "You're going to see utility regulators looking toward decoupling" -- even though it didn't work in Ohio, he said.
  • Government programs that offer "across-the-board tax incentives," rather than "picking winners and losers. "There is going to be a look at what tax incentives are out there for incumbent fossil fuel power and [a desire to start] a move to the green side."
  • Opportunities in power infrastructure. "Transmission lines, high voltage DC lines, is something you're going to see economic opportunity in and government support for."
  • The smart grid as a gateway investment. "Smart grid is going to continue to be very attractive and moreso, because one of the areas that presents the greatest possibility in cleantech is electric and hybrid cars -- the companies are out there, whether it's Tesla or Coda or Fisker. That's going to lead to tremendous opportunities in smart grid, energy storage, electrical use that creates enormous opportunities."
  • Investment in older energy technology. "The opportunities are enormous, and it's not just in new areas. There are going to be significant development in traditional hydrocarbon sources. We're going to see hydraulic fracking become a part of [our energy arsenal]."

Pataki made note of the "silly season" in U.S. politics -- where politicians say "ridiculous things" to get elected -- that's currently underway as Election Day nears, and warned cleantech investors to "move to the smart season" where they don't wait for government handouts.

"We can't just sit back and say we have a great application to the DOE," he said. "The technology has to continue to drive down costs."

Pataki added that corporations won't "roll back" but instead look for ways to profit in the sector, especially as corporate responsibilities expand to include environmental impact.

"I think there's going to be enormous pressure to monitor the environmental consequences of a company's actions," he said. "Companies that are going to be able to show that they're reducing the environmental consequences...will be really driven by their customers to show that. If you look at the financials of companies going forward, aggressive companies will begin to show the financial consequences of beginning to engage in efficiency."

Touching on the China-America cleantech race, Pataki said first the U.S. must get its "balance sheet back in some semblance of order."

"We have to have an aggressive American policy that invests in infrastructure, just like China is doing," he said. "That's where the stimulus failed."

Policy may not be driving the cleantech industry, but it's certainly powering it, Pataki said.

"You can't change the mind of the public when it comes to the future," he said.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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