Stimulus, Clean Energy, and Democracy

Stimulus, Clean Energy, and Democracy

In my last blog I mentioned Tom Friedman's suggestion that clean energy policy might benefit from a less than democratic policy-making process.  My own opinion was that we did not need to throw out the Constitution for one issue, but within our constitutional framework the legislature could structure the public debate proceedings — in rulemakings and in the courts — so that bureaucratic and litigation delay was not the devil we forgot to deal with. 

Friedman, in both his New York Times opinion pieces as well as his book, Flat, Hot and Crowded, is a huge cheerleader for the proposition that the United States can become the economic leader in the clean energy game with the right sort of domestic policies and restore some manufacturing to the United States and out-compete China Manufacturing.  Two recent articles hint that we may already be slipping in the race, because China does not have to deal with the type of delay that is characteristic of the United States.  A July 23rd article from Bloomberg News  on green power investments in China includes these comments: 

“In China, there’s a rapid follow-through from planning to construction whereas in Western markets — the U.S. — more time has to elapse as governments contend with local planning and possible opposition from citizen organizations,” said Alessandro Migliorini, an analyst at Helvea SA in Geneva.

"Meanwhile, the U.S. and Europe 'have become a little conservative about deploying some of the new technologies in electrical engineering for a while, like increasing voltages,' Peter Terwiesch, ABB’s chief technology officer, said in an interview. By contrast, the Chinese have 'actually had to evolve their grid very significantly and in many areas defined levels of requirements we haven’t seen anywhere else.'"

China apparently knows how to "stimulate," and this may have a lot to do with its command and control economic structure, which relies on a competitive market to quickly satisfy its commands.  The Bloomberg article reports: 

"Backed by a 4 trillion-yuan ($585 billion) economic stimulus package, the most populous country on Earth is targeting a 21 percent increase in spending on power transmission this year. Siemens AG, Alstom SA and General Electric Co. are also among those finding Chinese buyers for their most-advanced equipment.

“'The Chinese always want to buy the best,' ABB Chief Executive Officer Joe Hogan said in an interview. 'They force us to push the envelope on the technology.'

"Clean sources of energy will be used to generate about 35 percent of China’s electricity by 2020, according to Liu Zhenya, the head of State Grid Corp. of China, the nation’s biggest electricity provider. Currently the country’s 1.3 billion people get about 80 percent of their power from coal-fired plants."

Today's New York Times reports that China is outcompeting the United States in the solar marketplace.  And the Chinese may be coming to a factory near you here in the United States.  The Times reports, "Backed by lavish government support, the Chinese are preparing to build plants to assemble their products in the United States to bypass protectionist legislation. As Japanese automakers did decades ago, Chinese solar companies are encouraging their United States executives to join industry trade groups to tamp down anti-Chinese sentiment before it takes root."

So while we debate, regulate, and sue, others are moving forward and the Chinese will mute our criticism that they are the largest source of carbon emissions on the planet, even if they still are by 2020.

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