"The government's policy on energy in the United States is the most stupid, idiotic, inconsistent, crazy policy you could imagine," said Michael Garland, CEO of wind-powerhouse Pattern Energy Group. Garland spoke at the Renewable Energy Finance Forum yesterday in New York City, where chiefs of leading renewable energy companies discussed the challenges facing green industries. When the matter of BP's oil spill arose, the panel talked about how things have changed—but not for the better.
"I'm just amazed. Some of us are old enough to remember 1968-69, when the Santa Barbara oil spill happened, and you think about President Nixon being there—the EPA was passed, the Clean Air act was passed, I think the Clean Water act was passed," Garland said. "It's just mind-boggling that right now we're struggling to pass an energy bill in Congress."
"If you aren't out there right now actively calling and writing your legislators, and asking 10 other people to do the same, you're failing your industry in this business," he told audience members.
"It's striking how the political climate has changed," commented moderator Vijay Vaitheeswaran of The Economist, who discussed how the Santa Barbara oil spill galvanized the nation, and both Democrats and Republicans on environmental action. "Yet there's no analogy for the BP spill today—we're simply not seeing that kind of response."
Vaitheeswaran prodded the CEOs on what the actual impact of the Gulf spill would be, asking them to avoid explaining what they'd like or hope would happen.
"It's just a lot of ranting and raving from everyone," says John Woolard, CEO of BrightSource Energy, who believes the mid-term elections are causing the issue to be politicized. "We've done absolutely nothing productive to form legitimate energy legislation." Woolard hopes that after November, Congress will move beyond its "disjointed efforts." But until then, he sees the Gulf spill as having little impact on the green market.
"This will be a long-term catalyst, but near-term I don't think it's going to do too much," said Woolard.
Peter Duprey, CEO of Acciona Energy North America, stressed how important passing legislation is. "We really do need a long-term policy and a long-term energy strategy for this country," he said. "Energy is a long-term investment, and if we don't start turning this ship now, then when we have 3 billion more people in 2050—and everybody wants their piece of the energy pie—hopefully the United States will be well on its way to diversifying its energy base."
Given news that the U.K. government has appointed BP's former chief, Lord Browne, as its efficiency czar, apparently the significance of the Gulf spill hasn't penetrated deeply across the pond, either. Browne's cost-slashing measures as BP's CEO are largely blamed for the Gulf crisis, as well as two BP spills in Alaska and a refinery explosion in Texas. It appears in the U.K. and domestically, the political price of renewable energy is still far too high.