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CEO Roundtable: Debating The Boucher Bill

Utilities consider imposing a retail surcharge to fund clean-tech R&D.

Fortnightly Magazine - December 2008

efficiency] technologies are vitally important for us to develop for the same export reasons [as for CCS]. When you think about developing nations that don’t have our infrastructure, what better export product for us to have? Right now, quite candidly, we’re buying our solar panels from China and Germany and I don’t like that. It’s not a rap on China or Germany, but I’d like to see some things manufactured here in the United States.

Morris: Including the infrastructure for whatever nuclear stations need to be built. We need to reconstruct the nuclear supply chain in this country, and we need to construct the supply chain for energy efficiency and solar panels in this country.

I’m deeply excited about Silicon Valley getting involved in these issues. I spent time with [Intel’s former Chairman & CEO] Andy Grove on retrofitting the current fleet of automobiles to become plug-in electric hybrid vehicles. Companies like that have the time and energy, as well as the garages, to do the skunk works that will change this equation. Mike Chesser could very well be right that we don’t need to build anywhere near the [expected] number of central stations. But I’d simply love to see the supply-chain infrastructure blossom in this country.

Chesser: I’m sure Andy Grove told you, the solar panels these days are expected to conform to Moore’s Law. You cut the price in half every five years. They’re expecting the same effect, particularly with nanotechnology with solar cells.

Morris: That’s exactly right. The capacity is increasing as they change the chemical constituents of the panels. It’s great to have all that intellect working on these things. It truly is.

Izzo: You used the word ‘intellect.’ The other thing that’s so important about getting the price signals right and getting the long-term commitment is that it allows you to develop the infrastructure, whether it’s manufacturing capacity to build nuclear plants or equally importantly the human infrastructure. We can’t have schools saying, ‘We want a nuclear department,’ then saying, ‘No we don’t.’ We can’t have schools saying, ‘PV is the wave of the future,’ and then saying, ‘Nobody is going to do it because fossil fuels are cheap, so let’s shut it down.’ Whether it’s the engineering talent, the scientific talent or the craft skills, it’s important to stick to the theme that energy is important to our quality of life, and with engineering we can make the world a better place, even if the scientists are wrong about climate change.

 

Fortnightly: Aside from collecting the surcharge, what’s the utility’s role in R&D? After all, utilities generally are purchasers of technology, not developers of technology.

Catell: Utilities can play a vital role in getting new technologies into the marketplace. But it might require a new utility model to allow you to at least make investments in these technologies and get them into the market.

In the near term, the primary things we can do to help solve the problem are conservation and efficiency. This is an area and a role that utilities can play, working