As part of President Barack Obama’s economic stimulus plan, which he laid out, generally, in a speech on January 8th, he plans to double U.S. renewable energy output by 2012. This ambitious goal stems from his more specific campaign promise to invest $150 billion in clean energy — with a focus on wind, solar, and geothermal power — and create 5 million new green-collar jobs in the process. Still, the 2012 deadline has received some notable criticism considering the feasibility of such a plan.
The most notable criticism, perhaps, came from Exxon-Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson — hardly someone to be trusted on environmental issues (his company, which claimed record profits during the last year’s surge in oil prices, hasn’t even finished paying reparations on the Valdez oil spill so many years ago). He is, however, a powerful critic nonetheless. Mr. Tillerson claimed that wind, solar, and geothermal are simply unable to meet such demands at this time.
Is Tillerson right? Arguably, although evidence favoring renewable generation far outweighs that encouraging continued fossil fuel production levels, which Tillerson supports for obvious reasons. The solar industry alone nearly doubled in size in 2008 alone. Wind and geothermal projected similar gains as well, although the economic crash has certainly put a damper on investing and optimism.
The fact is, however, that demand for clean energy is high. And it is great to see Obama putting a large and ambitious emphasis on clean energy and renewable job generation. The solar industry for one is primed to grow at an increasing rate. The supply is there. What was once a shortage in silicon supply for solar cells is quickly turning into a surplus as manufacturers have ramped up production as the economy falters.
What about the feasibility of Obama’s plan to double renewable output? It may be a bit aggressive, but that’s exactly what environmentalists and conscious consumers have been clamoring for. Even if the actual output of renewable energy does not officially meet Obama’s three-year timetable, we would definitely have increased infrastructure with possibly 5 million people in our country working to make it happen. The current crisis will certainly hinder the solution to an already very complex problem, but we can either continue to paralyze ourselves with fear while the problems pile higher or get out there and start fixing them. To ignore Obama’s lofty goals as impossible while maintaining a primary focus on a fossil-fueled economy would only prolong and deepen those problems. Indeed it has been a long and misguided ignorance of renewable energy potential that has helped put us in the situation we are currently in.
The road out of this recession will be arduous and uphill, there is no doubt about that, but the longer we wait the steeper that hill becomes. And as the hole gets deeper, the need for loftier goals is ever more present. Kudos to Obama for setting a challenge for himself, Congress, and the American people. Can we reach it? Who knows, but for the sake of ourselves and our children, let’s get out there and try!