Obama’s State of the Union highlights the need of congressional support for the renewables industry

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Over the past few weeks, GOP candidates have had been the headliners in American political news, but January 24 saw President Obama take the main stage with his State of the Union address. While the President touched on various topics, many of which will be pertinent to the November election, the cleantech industry was acknowledged, with topics such as the Solyndra debacle and the trade case with solar Chinese solar modules commented upon.

Overall, President Obama appeared to be on the side of the US cleantech industry. Jesse Pichel, equity analyst for Jefferies & Company, even noted that the likelihood of a settlement to the Chinese module trade case seems quite low. The President noted that his administration had doubled the trade cases against China, and acknowledged his agreement that heavily subsidized foreign manufactures impede the ideal notion of “fair” trade. “I will go anywhere in the world to open new markets for American products. And I will not stand by when our competitors don't play by the rules. We've brought trade cases against China at nearly twice the rate as the last administration – and it's made a difference. Over a thousand Americans are working today because we stopped a surge in Chinese tires. But we need to do more. It's not right when another country lets our movies, music, and software be pirated. It's not fair when foreign manufacturers have a leg up on ours only because they're heavily subsidized. Tonight, I'm announcing the creation of a Trade Enforcement Unit that will be charged with investigating unfair trade practices in countries like China,” pledged President Obama.

The President vowed to increase energy standards while increasing clean energy purchases by the government and went so far as to directly address Congress by calling upon them to pass clean-energy tax credits and other incentives that would help manufacturers make their facilities more energy-efficient. However, no specific details on how to achieve this, or what type of incentives should be offered, were commented upon.

Perhaps one of the most remarked upon solar topics during the past year was the fall of Solyndra, a subject which the President finally addressed – somewhat. Pichel notes that President Obama defended the DOE loan guarantee to the now bankrupt Solyndra and called for a “doubling down of a clean energy industry in the US that will not cede to China or Germany because the country refused to make the same commitment.”

“This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy—a strategy that's cleaner, cheaper, and full of new jobs. And by the way, it was public research dollars over the course of 30 years that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock—reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground,” he said.

“Our experience with shale gas shows us that the payoffs on these public investments don't always come right away. Some technologies don't pan out; some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. … I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here. We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That's long enough. It's time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that's rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that's never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs.”

Finally, climate change legislation was noted last night to a Congress that some political activists have called one of the least active in recent years. Even the President acknowledged that comprehensive climate change legislation would be unlikely with such drastically different agenda’s between the legislative and executive branches of the government. Nevertheless, President Obama commented on climate change legislation and the necessity to increase energy standards and requirements for DOD spending on clean technology.

“We can also spur energy innovation with new incentives. The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change. But there's no reason why Congress shouldn't at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation. So far, you haven't acted. Well tonight, I will. I'm directing my Administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes. And I'm proud to announce that the Department of Defence, the world's largest consumer of energy will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history – with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.”

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