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Renewable Energy, Biofuels Top Energy Committee Agenda

By Debra DeHaney-Howard
January 30, 2012

Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido convened the Conference of Mayors Energy Committee January 18, where mayors discussed energy issues with U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack, New Jersey Congressman Frank Pallone and Dr. Arun Majumdar, Department Energy Director Advance Research Projects Agency.

"We've made a commitment at USDA to a new energy future and the important role that renewable energy and biomass and a bio-based economy will play in creating a new economy," Vilsack said during his opening remarks.

In speaking to the some of the priorities at USDA, Vilsack said, "We are engaged in promoting a biobased economy because not only can fuel and energy be produced from these feedstocks but also chemicals and fibers can be produced. There's a whole new industry that can be created from our agriculture products, which is something that can be renewed and grown every year and that will be better for the environment and reduce our reliance on foreign oil."

Vilsack underscored the need to streamline the transmission line permitting process. He described USDA's work with the Departments of Energy and Interior and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on this issue. Reporting that eight corridors have been identified to delivery renewable energy, Vilsack said, "We are working with DOE, DOI and FERC to streamline the process in which transmission lines, especially those that are over public lands can be permitted more quickly." "We recognize and appreciate that you can produce all this renewable energy but if you can't get it to the cities that need it because the transmission system is not equipped then it does very little good to generate the power," he added.

Representative Frank Pallone (NJ)

Pallone, a senior member of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, told the mayors that, "We are running out of time with regard to addressing global climate change." While he praised the mayors for their work on climate, he noted that Congress failed to do its part by passing climate legislation.

"With respect to renewable energy, I regret the fact that over the years the Congress has not incentivized renewable energy whether it is solar, wind, and hydropower, but We've seen it at the state level," Pallone said. He described some of New Jersey's efforts in encouraging usages of renewable energy, including providing tax credits and establishing renewable portfolio standards.

In speaking on the lack of action in Congress, Pallone said, "What's most disappointing and extremely unfortunate is that the federal renewable tax credit for solar expired last December. To be competitive we need these tax credits." He also noted that, "Renewable energy is not only an energy resource issue, but also energy security issue and a jobs issue. We can't continue to rely on imported oil and energy for the Mideast."

Dr. Arun Majumdar, Director, ARPA-E

Promoting the Administration's approach to a clean energy future, Majumdar told participants that the goal is to make "clean technologies locally and then sell them globally." "While innovation is vital, we must also look at ways to deploy these technologies to the market. At the local level, we see cities installing new, cleaner technologies through the nearly $3 billion of Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants," he said.

In highlighting a number of programs implemented under the energy block grant program, Majumdar said, "These are some of the many investments that will keep giving back to your communities, investments in new technologies that add up to millions in savings each year."

"Although innovations are important and necessary, they are not sufficient to compete in the global landscape. We need an energy ecosystem that includes innovation in energy technologies and manufacturing, access to low-cost and long-term financing, and development of domestic and global markets," he said.

Keystone XL Pipeline

Eugene Mayor Kity Piercy, a senior member of the Committee, delivered a report on the Keystone XL Pipeline issue. Piercy reported that 100 mayors signed a letter opposing construction of the pipeline and announced during her presentation that President Obama rejected the proposal for the Keystone XL pipeline, praising her colleagues for their advocacy efforts on this issue.