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Stalled U.S. energy policy bad for upstate “green” ventures

Congress’ lack of action on a national energy policy could put upstate businesses at a competitive disadvantage, globally.
Ryan Morden
Congress’ lack of action on a national energy policy could put upstate businesses at a competitive disadvantage, globally.

Congress is finishing up its so-called lame duck session. While items like the repeal of “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell,” renewing theBush tax cuts, andfood safety regulations are on the agenda, what won’t be taken up is a sweeping new energy policy.

President Obama has floated an ambitious cap and trade bill, but that’ll no doubt be on hold as the new incoming Republican House majorityis ardently against the proposal.

The lack of a new energy policy, including steps to mitigate global climate change could make renewable energy ventures in upstate New York less competitive. That’s according to a panel of experts who spoke about the state of the green economy in upstate New York at a recent forum hosted by WRVO.  Here’s what they had to say:

Linda Dickerson Hartsock, Executive Director of The Clean Tech Center

"Investors are very concerned about [the lack of a federal policy]. I was recently at Advanced Energy conference where some of the leading clean tech investors from around the world are talking about what they saw for 2011. They were concerned about a lot of these federal programs expiring. Tax credits, [Department of Energy] loan guarantees, DOE grants that basically … sort of subsidize the cost, very expensive up front cost of developing and commercializing some of these technologies. Their perspective is they’re not going to invest, ‘we’re going to sit back, we’re not certain these programs are going to be renewed. We want to see long term programs in place that will give us a little more assurance’, because these are really capital intensive investments to look at putting together anywhere from $30,000 to $100 million dollars to build a biomass gasification plant or a big solar manufacturing facility or a big biofuels production facility with risky technology and consumers not willing to pay the price of what it actually costs to produce." "The investor market is really sitting back and saying ‘we’re not sure.‘we’re going to look at Europe, we’re going to look at China, we’re going to look at India. We know what government programs and incentives are in place there over a longer term, they’re safer bets’. We should all as a country be concerned about that because I think we also need to recognize that there’s a sense of urgency about this. There are limited reserves around the world, we’re looking at tough decisions in our lifetime, and you have to care about the world you’re leaving behind for your kids. I think next year will be a real bellwether year for the new energy economy to see what happens."

Matt Daneman, business reporter from the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

"I think you’re also looking at a situation where this policy change, or the tightness on the budget we’re likely going to see, for the green economy, coming at a time when these industries and individual companies are still really trying to establish themselves market-share-wise, which becomes problematic. Because if you’re a U.S. company trying to latch onto this particular technology and you don’t have the capital and resources available to you, but foreign competition has that stance, what’s the industry standard going to become? It’s going to become your competition. So the timing, frankly, probably stinks for a lot of the U.S green energy companies that are trying to emerge right now."

Nasir Ali, founder and Executive Director of the Seed Capital Fund of CNY

"I deal a lot with startup companies and one of the things that is most important for any start up is proximity to the customer. It is not valid to say that you can start a company that is making cutting edge technologies – let’s say solar power – in New York State, but the best market to sell in is California. The best market for that company to actually grow in is California, it’s not New York State. We have to figure out how to not just have this innovation happen, but also how to bring that most critical early validation and feedback locally. because it’s not possible for a small company with limited resources to be trying to convince people and sell into markets far away. That’s a big part of trying to making this green equation work. "

Innovation Trail alumnus Ryan Morden is originally from Seattle. He graduated from the University of Washington with a bachelor's in journalism, minoring in political science and Scandinavian studies. Morden was Morning Edition producer and reporter at WRVO before moving over to the Innovation Trail project. Before landing at WRVO, Morden covered the Washington State legislature as a correspondent for Northwest News Network (N3), a group of nine NPR affiliates in the northwest.