November 18, 2009
Republican Support for Innovation Grows
By Michael Shellenberger
One year ago, scholars from the American Enterprise Institute, Breakthrough Institute, and Brookings Institution called on Congress to reform energy subsidies so they specifically fund innovation and not simply greater production of old technologies. "The death of cap and trade doesn't have to mean the death of climate policy," wrote David Leonhardt in The New York Times. "The alternative revolves around much more, and much better organized, financing for clean energy research. It's an idea with a growing list of supporters, a list that even includes conservatives -- most of whom opposed cap and trade."
Since then, the list of supporters for post-partisan energy innovation has grown further. Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers endorsed a step-wise increase in energy R&D funding, telling Time magazine, "If we can't get a consensus on carbon policy, let's put the money into research and let's drive down the cost of solar and wind and make them competitive. Think about how much it would change the debate if solar and wind were as cheap as coal?" Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney put out a policy paper stating that government has a role to play in innovation, and wrote that "history shows that the United States has moved forward in astonishing ways thanks to national investment in basic research and advanced technology."
In late September, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) gave a speech warning of the high cost of imported oil, and proposed using funds from expanded domestic energy production for innovation. Citing research by the Breakthrough Institute, Sen. Murkowsi said, "It's certainly in our interest to promote new technologies that can lower the cost of energy. But, clearly, it's against our interest to focus on sources of energy that will depend on continuous, long-term subsidization."
Now, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has embraced a core idea in Post-Partisan Power: shift today's subsidies away from production and toward innovation. "I would try to swap the money we're spending on permanent subsidies for energy and invest it instead in research," Alexander told Grist.org's Amanda Little. "Second, I'd like to focus these funds on the most promising areas of clean energy. I've devised a plan for seven mini Manhattan Projects for energy independence: solar, batteries, green building, capturing carbon, fusion, making fuels from crops we don't eat, and finding better ways to deal with nuclear fuel."
Sen. Alexander also points to the promise of small modular nuclear reactors, a technology singled out in Post-Partisan Power for their safety and their potential to be much cheaper than today's large plants, as well as solar panels and electric cars. And once again Sen. Alexander stresses that any effort to move to clean energy by increasing the price of fossil fuels is dead. "Making gas more expensive would be a terrible way to introduce electric cars to the country," he said.