Mr. Jenkins Goes to Washington

In Senate testimony yesterday, Breakthrough Institute Energy and Climate Policy Director Jesse Jenkins urged lawmakers to adopt innovation-centered reforms that will drive advanced energy technologies to subsidy independence.

Appearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Jenkins called for changes to national energy policy on two fronts.

Congress should first reform its suite of deployment subsidies to "better drive and reward innovation" so that clean tech segments can become cost-competitive with fossil fuels without subsidy "as soon as possible," Jenkins said.

Despite important recent gains in performance and cost reduction, most advanced energy market segments - also referred to as "clean tech" - remain dependent on federal policies. "That policy support is now poised to turn from boom to bust," Jenkins warned.

Total annual federal spending supporting advanced energy industries surged to $44.3 billion in 2009, but is now poised to decline 75 percent to $11 billion by 2014, according to the recent report, "Beyond Boom and Bust: Putting Clean Tech on a Path to Subsidy Independence," authored by experts at the Breakthrough Institute, Brookings Institution, and World Resources Institute.

Lawmakers should also enact policies that will drive long-term innovation and growth in advanced energy technologies - as well as American leadership in the multi-trillion-dollar energy markets of the 21st century, Jenkins said. Investments in research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) and policies that accelerate the commercialization of clean tech will pay dividends in the years to come.

Congress should boost federal spending on energy research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) to at least $15 billion annually, expand and modernize innovative government offices such as the Energy Frontier Research Centers and Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, support institutional arrangements that help advanced energy technologies overcome the technological and commercialization "valleys of death," and harness advanced manufacturing and regional industry clusters, Jenkins said.

Jenkins said the historic role the federal government played in driving shale gas extraction technologies to market - which led to the current natural gas boom - was a "parable for what we can and should do with new energy technologies."

The role of government in driving markets and innovation for advanced energy technologies should be "limited and direct," he concluded. "The goal should be to help develop robust industries that can stand on their own and thrive without public subsidies as soon as possible."

Read Jesse Jenkins' complete written testimony here, or watch him provide Senate testimony on C-SPAN here.