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Beyond Solyndra: Partnerships for Clean Energy

co-authored with Lew Milford*

If you’re tired of the acrimony and gridlock currently stymieing progress toward a lower-carbon future in the United States, perhaps you’ll want to check out the discussion underway today at the U.S. Patent Office in Alexandria, Va. There, the Metro Program along with the Patent Office, the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, and the Clean Energy Group are hosting what should be a far more edifying discussion on clean energy than has been in evidence in recent weeks. (Webcast available here).

The session could not be more timely.

Coming on the heels of the controversy surrounding the bankruptcy of solar system manufacturer Solyndra, today’s day-long forum will provide a welcome opportunity to step back and think seriously about how to craft more creative partnerships and approaches to creating a clean energy transition in the United States.

As for our angle on all of this, our starting point is that there is a ton of clean energy activity outside of Washington and beyond the current ambit of federal policymaking.

States and cities have been in the lead on clean energy project support and economic development policies for a decade. More recently, the Metro Program’s “Sizing the Clean Economy” report underscored that the true locus of the nation’s clean energy economy is not really national at all but regional and local and noted the vigor and creativity of state, metro, and local initiatives in clean energy development.

Given that, a huge issue going forward is whether and how the federal government will enter into new partnerships to do more to support these emerging decentralized clean energy efforts. State, local, and regional efforts have been successful. If they grow, they have great potential to deliver job growth over time, and avoid much of the energy gridlock, partisanship and paralysis on clean energy in Washington. So shouldn’t the way forward entail a new, tactful, partnership-oriented stance on the part of Washington?

We certainly think so, which is why a variety of speakers today will talk about how a new generation of decentralized, collaborative, partnership oriented initiatives may well hold the best chance of addressing a series of compelling challenges including: how to move technology from the lab to the market; how to advance international technology collaboration; how to finance technologies mired in the “Valley of Death” commercialization bind; and how to develop better, more truly federalist approaches to clean energy deployment and economic development.

Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank will frame the day.

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy will describe why and how his state just created the first green investment bank for clean energy infrastructure.

And the lunchtime keynote, Tim Richards, managing director of international energy policy at General Electric, will give an industry perspective on the sort of multi-tier, collaborative policies and programs that will be needed to support the clean energy economy.

Additional speakers will describe ways to leverage the $3 billion in state funds that have been invested and continue to be invested in projects and companies, while another panel will explore ways to better align and weave together the efforts of regional cluster initiatives, state economic development entities, community finance institutions, and the federal government.

In a small way, we truly hope today’s dialogue will be an opportunity to reset the clean energy discussion and see how we can take advantage of promising out-of-the-Beltway successes to forge a new direction for clean energy growth and opportunity.

*Lew Milford is president of the Clean Energy Group