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An Open Letter to Arnold Schwarzenegger

Clint Wilder's picture

Dear Arnold, I assume that it's okay to be informal here, yes? That seems like the kind of guy you are, and the kind of administration you say you want to run -- open, accessible and for the people. After all, one of the few times in the entire campaign that you wore a necktie was at your victory speech. Although Clean Edge focuses on clean energy technology throughout the country and the world, we believe that California is the clean-tech pioneer that millions of others look to. Plus, it's home. And as you're well aware, you'll be governing the world's fifth-largest economy. So you're going to have a powerful influence in the direction of our energy future. In that spirit, I'd like to offer my recommendations on how you can help lead California on a path toward a clean, sustainable, and job-creating energy policy. On solar energy, you're saying the right things -- and as with any elected official, I want to hold you to your campaign promises. Support the extension of tax credits for on-grid solar photovoltaics and other distributed generation technologies for the state's businesses and commercial sites. Stick to your stated (and ambitious) goal that 50% of California's new homes include solar PV by 2005. Be a champion for the $500 million recently allocated by the legislature (Assembly Bill 1685) and signed into law by outgoing Gov. Gray Davis this week to fund distributed generation systems through 2008. That's just part of a huge commitment of funding and incentives that the state has made to distributed power and renewable energy under Davis' leadership. The Schwarzenegger administration should continue and even exceed these programs, putting California far out front as the vanguard of sane, sustainable energy policy in this country. Your stated commitment to endorse and even increase California's Renewable Portfolio Standard is great. You say you'll direct the state's energy commission to establish incentives and strategies to reach the 20% of electricity from renewables threshold seven years early -- by 2010 -- and aggressively target a goal of 33% by 2020. Sounds good to me. But changes like this take money, political will, and battling against very powerful entrenched interests. You can't just put it out there as a goal that sounds good to voters, then hope the private sector and the so-called free market follow along. Quite frankly, I'm concerned about your campaign rhetoric against regulation and taxes. The state government has a very important role to play in promoting clean energy -- in partnership with industry, of course. But regulation shouldn't be a dirty word. In fact, a huge majority of Californians, 73%, said they favored re-regulation of the state's electric utilities in a Public Policy Institute of California survey last year, and 59% favor stricter environmental laws. In the same poll, 69% said they support more renewable energy development. You may have been aware of that last figure when, late last month, you proposed the "hydrogen highways" plan to build hydrogen refueling stations for fuel cell vehicles every 20 miles along California's interstates by 2010. What was missing was an estimated price tag for this bold plan. I applaud your vision of moving toward a hydrogen future, but unrealistic and impossible schemes like this may do more harm than good. The Christian Science Monitor called it "the most ludicrous proposal since 'Waterworld'"-- reinforcing the misconception that fossil-fuel reduction is a prohibitively expensive, far-off-in-the-future pipe dream. And it raises strong concern about the potential gap between style and substance in your administration. You personalized the hydrogen issue, saying you'd retrofit one of your many gas- guzzling Hummers to run on a hydrogen fuel cell. Not only is this also impossible -- you can't power the weight of a Hummer with a fuel cell small enough to fit in the vehicle -- but it sends a misleading message that our path to renewable energy use is that simple. As the U.S. citizen who was largely responsible for making Hummers commercially available, you'd do far more good by announcing you'd had a change of heart and would now drive fuel-efficient vehicles. You, more than anyone, know how powerful symbols can be. Clint Wilder is Clean Edge's contributing editor.