In recent years, renewable energy has been pulled into the political debate. The Keystone pipeline, oil and gas subsidies, renewable energy subsidies, the loan guarantee program–Washington is often split down the aisle on many issues that will have lasting effects on the energy security and well-being of this country. WREF 2012 marked the first time, a Secretary from the Department of Energy spoke at an ASES conference. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy, did not approach his audience as a crusader for the cause of renewable energy, instead, he presented a clear and concise argument for the expansion of renewables in the United States. Chu’s interest in energy began with climate change, though his interest was not that of a die-hard environmentalist, but of an inquisitive scientist. He presented his view on the systematic problems facing our nation related to transmission, distribution, and a limited supply of fossil fuels. Chu focused on the economic opportunity and stressed our need to act now. The views presented by Chu were grounded in fact and supported by rigorous analysis. Chu’s conclusion?
The question is no longer if clean energy will become competitive with conventional energy forms of energy; the question is, when will it happen?
The first question from the audience during Q&A vocalized the frustration many feel in the renewable energy world at the political debate around energy in Washington. The issue this question referred to was on subsidies for renewables without recognizing that fossil fuels have been receiving subsides for decades. The list goes on and on. The audience member urged Steven Chu to lead the DOE to create a new dialog for public discourse around energy. Chu responded that the last thing we want is to let clean energy get bogged down in a political debate. It is on its way to becoming a cheaper form of energy. Conversation should be to phase out all subsidies because technology is going at such a pace where we should not need subsidies. Chu is a scientist, not a politician, and his perspective that politics should stay out of rational decisions about this country’s energy future is probably a wise one. Toxic politics are rendering useless to much of our public discourse about the future. If the energy world can embrace both sides of the aisle in Washington and keep the focus on logical strategies that will support a better future for everyone, their cause will benefit.