RFK Jr.: Renewable energy good for business, nation

BOULDER – Trumpeting the economic benefits of renewable energy, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told a receptive Boulder audience June 12 that a good U.S. economic policy would include valuing natural resources as assets to the community, not as resources to be cashed in hastily.

Delivering the keynote address at the 2013 Boulder Earth conference at the Boulder Theater, Kennedy compared the importance of investing in alternative energy resources such as wind and solar power with investing in national telecommunications and road infrastructure.

“If we do what the polluters want us to do with our resources to cash them in as quickly as possible for instantaneous cash flow, our children will pay for our joyride,” Kennedy said.

Speaking for more than an hour at the daylong event organized by the Boulder County Business Report, Kennedy – nephew of President John F. Kennedy and son of a former U.S. senator and attorney general – gave numerous examples of the financial and environmental costs of extractive resource industries in the United States. He discussed indirect subsidies made to the companies that run coal-powered utility plants in the United States and talked about the cost of pollution.

“A true free-market economy would bring about energy efficiency,” Kennedy said. “Show me a polluter, and I’ll show you a subsidy.”

The oil industry receives $1.3 trillion in U.S. government subsidies annually to operate, Kennedy said. He reminded listeners that the United States buys oil from nations that “don’t share our values and are outright hostile to us,” adding that “we’re funding both sides of the war on terror through our addiction to oil.”

He compared the conflict’s cost to that of a 2.7-gigawatt solar thermal electric plant planned for the Mojave Desert. A “green” alternative to traditional power plants at an estimated building cost of $3 billion per gigawatt of power, he said, the new solar facility is expected to cost less than the Iraq war.

Kennedy is involved with the group building the new plant, a process expected to take three years.

“Once we build our plant, it’s free energy forever,” Kennedy said. “It’s not as easy as I (made it sound), but it’s a lot less complicated than (paying for) wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Kennedy estimated the cost of the Iraq war at $3 trillion.

Kennedy said the United States faces three impediments in its move toward using more alternative energy in the future.

First, he said, subsidies to incumbent energy companies tilt the playing field against renewable power.

Second, the nation’s current power-grid infrastructure isn’t set up to handle new, alternative energy, especially since it can’t handle long-haul energy transmissions, Kennedy said. “We need a national grid system, a ‘smart grid,’ that can store solar energy at night, and wind … during the doldrums.”

Third, the U.S.’ energy market is not a “rational marketplace,” Kennedy said. He suggested that federal laws can be passed that support energy conservation and/or a switch to renewable-energy sources. In California, such rules have led to each resident using about half the amount of energy that other people use in the United States, about 6,000 kilowatt hours of power per capita, compared with 11,000 to 13,000 kilowatt hours of power per capita elsewhere, Kennedy said.

On the plus side, recent government incentives have led to an increase in solar installations and other alternative power projects, said Amory Host, chief executive of Main Street Power Co. in Boulder, lead sponsor of the conference.

Solar installation programs across the nation were up 600 percent in 2012 over the year before, and such projects are expected to triple again in the next three years, Host said. In March, 100 percent of new generating capacity came from solar power, he said.

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