Reicher discusses green energy policy tactics

July 20, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

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When Dan Reicher ’78 was 7 years old, he wrote a letter to vendors of wolverine fur parkas, concerned that the sales endangered wolves. The vendors responded — they would no longer carry the product.

Reicher recounted this experience in Filene Auditorium on Thursday, calling it the beginning of his environmental activism career. The second speaker for this summer’s “Leading Voices” series on energy, sustainability and security, Reicher has worked in the public and private sectors to combat climate change and initiate clean energy projects.

He discussed promising clean energy initiatives, calling investment in new technologies, smart public policy decisionmaking and large capital contributions essential for these initiatives’ success.

“We need to get smart in all three parts of that triangle and not focus too much on one and forget about the others,” Reicher said.

He identified Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Washington, D.C., as key players for enacting smart energy policy. That must encourage the research and development of new products.

Switching to cleaner energy sources, modernizing the country’s electric power grid and increasing energy efficiency in buildings and industrial processing plants could improve domestic energy use, he said.

He called new federal emissions standards for automobiles “a huge, huge step forward” for fuel savings and reducing emissions.

“We want the services, and if we can do it with less energy, let’s do it that way,” Reicher said. “Too often, we’re not.”

Spending promises, like the International Energy Agency’s pledge to spend $38 trillion on energy investment by 2035, can be an “opportunity to do good and to do well,” he said.

Yet access to enough capital for clean energy, the high cost of such capital and the need to commercialize best energy use practices may impede domestic energy use’s improvement, he said.

“Three percent of existing commercial space is renovated each year, but just a tenth of this space includes state-of-the-art energy efficiency updates,” Reicher said. “It’s even worse in homes.”

Reicher said that federal and state governments can mandate energy updates for new properties or when properties change owners.

“When you get your home appraised before getting a mortgage, the bank has to look at all sorts of things, but not energy use,” he said. “Why don’t we include the cost of energy? Many times, that’s actually more expensive than either the insurance or the taxes.”

Reicher said that consumers could also be more conscientious about energy use. While many notice the high cost of gasoline at the pump, they often neglect cost-saving measures to increase their homes’ energy efficiency.

He called the cost financing renewable energy projects a burden for new projects. Though equipment costs have decreased after research and development breakthroughs led by China, Germany and the U.S., financing costs have remained high.

Though the federal government has tried to address this problem with tax credits, lapses in congressional approval have made them ineffective, Reicher said. He called on private industry to increase financing for energy projects instead.

“There’s a limited group of eligible investors out there, and there aren’t many companies set up to take advantage of them,” Reicher said.

Lexi Krupp ’15, whose environmental studies class received a visit from Reicher earlier that day, called the lecture “a good intersection of the field.”

“It’s really interesting to hear about the many different aspects to this like finance and policy,” she said. “I didn’t really know how renewables are disadvantaged compared to oil, gas and other conventional energy because they aren’t eligible for certain types of financing.”

Mark Sheridan ’15, another student in the class, said he appreciated the breadth of the speaker’s experience in public and private sectors.

The executive director of Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, Reicher has taught at the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and Vermont Law School, and has worked in three presidential administrations. He was the director of climate change and energy initiatives at Google from 2007 to 2011 before assuming his current position at Stanford.

Leading Voices, an annual summer lecture series that began in 2011, focuses on a current events topic.

Marina Shkuratov contributed reporting.

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