Transcript: Thom Hartmann & Secretary of Energy Steven Chu - National Clean Energy Summit 4.0. August 30, 2011

Thom Hartmann: Welcome back Thom Hartmann here with you from the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0 in Las Vegas, Nevada. And with me is Secretary Steven Chu, a member of the cabinet of the President of the United States. He's the Secretary of Energy here in the United States. (Energy.gov.) He used to work at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab where he, and taught at the University of California, professor of physics, molecular and cell biology, and led the lab in pursuit of alternative and renewable energy technology. Bravo sir! Welcome to the program. And thank you for being with us.

Steven Chu: Sure.

Thom Hartmann: Tell us your take on what's going on here and what the future of clean energy is in America.

Steven Chu: Well I think there's a realization as the recovery act ends, that America is going to be at a cross roads. Many countries around the world recognizing that we have to transition to clean energy. They're making the reasonable bet that in the long term the price of oil is going to go up. And so you need to have an efficient economy that uses energy as wisely and as efficiently as possible. That you're going to have to develop clean energy sources to mitigate climate change. So given those things, what do you do? China has made a move and made commitments, Europe has, is making commitments. They said this is inevitable. So how do we position ourselves to be in the best economic position to develop those technologies that the world will need in the future.

Thom Hartmann: So Secretary Chu, how do we do that?

Steven Chu: Well I think it's we go to our strength. What's our strength. We have the greatest research, development, innovation machine in the world but it has to be given direction. And that direction says we will have policies that will encourage investments in clean energy. A clean energy portfolio, like many states now, the majority of states have these. But we need a federal standard that says at a certain level we need a certain fraction to come from renewable energy, later we need a higher fraction. As you create this market, investors know that they can sell these products. The investments houses know that they can lend to these businesses. And you're developing a whole market.

Thom Hartmann: Right.

Steven Chu: This is something that we learned, we were the first to develop wind turbines in the first of the oil shocks in California. But after the price of oil went down, everybody forgot that. In Europe, Denmark and Germany in particular said no, we're going to take a long view, this is not going to go away, we're going to develop wind turbine technology and they continues over the next ten years to encourage investments and they became the dominant force.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. 18% of electricity in Denmark, Germany's thousand, they're generating ten thousand gigawatts of solar power.

Steven Chu: Ireland now is 20% wind, they're thinking of going 40% with very little, and it's an island. It's not connected to another grid. They've got a small tie. And at 20% wind they see very little impact on the cost of fossil fuel generation and it's automatically toggles back and forth. They can go to 40% wind. Denmark is going to go higher. These are things that are happening around the world. We can do this in the United States but we also can develop the new technologies so that our products are the ones that will dominate the market. Otherwise we can just sit back and say well this might not happen. Maybe this climate stuff is not right. Maybe the price of oil will go down. These are not bets, this is bets based on wishful thinking. And you don't plan a country's future based on wishful thinking. You plan a country's future based on what likely will happen.

Thom Hartmann: Yeah. And policies that would do that. In 1934 or '35, Franklin Roosevelt passed the Buy American Act that required any government agency to first source from American manufacturers, rather infamously or famously one of America's largest solar manufactures in Massachusetts that had gotten 70 million dollars in tax breaks to site them, just closed down and moved to China. Do you see as any possible part of President Obama's job program or anything else, something that would provide incentives or reverse some of the incentives to go overseas for, because we invented the transistor and we don't make, you know why should solar power be any different.

Steven Chu: we invented silicon photocells, we invented transistors, the integrated circuit. We were the major developers of the computer, the internet, and so on it goes. A lot of the biotechnologies, the pharmaceuticals, those were developed in the United States. That is our strength. But what there has been in the past amongst some circles that say well we don't really need manufacturing jobs and besides we can't compete. Well I beg to differ. Let me look at, you consider what is happening in Germany and look at their labor market. The cost of labor is very high. They're doing a swimming business exporting high tech technology, they sell these technologies all over the world and their exports of high technology hardware have been increasing, they have not been decreasing.

Thom Hartmann: Right.

Steven Chu: We have what Germany has. We can do this. Their labor costs are no higher than ours. In these technologies a lot of this is, go to China, look at what's in their photovoltaic factories. These are highly automated factories. Labor is an incidental cost. They buy their silicon from the United States. When I asked why they said we can't compete with that raw material, energy is so cheap in the United States so we just buy silicon from the United States, they ship it to China, they add to technological stuff, the added value of the technology and then countries like Germany, the United States, or Spain say well we want you to assemble them here. No problem, we'll assemble the modules in the United States or in Germany. Okay what is wrong with this? It's not what the American people are being told. We, if we can't compete, and the high technology, non-labor intensive stuff, then we have a problem in the United States. But we can compete.

Thom Hartmann: We have not had since Jimmy Carter's presidency, since Ronald Reagan came into office, we haven't had a national energy policy. And to the best of my knowledge we haven't had a national manufacturing policy. Are you suggesting we should do something like one or both of those?

Steven Chu: I think so. I think, I hear some people say that it's all right, we don't need manufacturing jobs, we can transition to a service economy, we can transition to financial services. I think this is not good thinking.

Thom Hartmann: Right, yeah.

Steven Chu: First, manufacturing, not all jobs are created equal. Manufacturing jobs create supply chain jobs. Guess what, they also create the service jobs. And so there's highly leverage. And it also means there's a diversity of jobs in the United States. Not everybody can or will want to work in a bank. Not everybody can or needs to be a lawyer. And so manufacturing has been a key part of the United States for most of our history and it should be a key part, just as it is going to be a key part of Germany's history.

Thom Hartmann: Keep up the great work in the cabinet. And informing the American people. It's an honor to meet you.

Steven Chu: All right, okay, thank you.

Thom Hartmann: thank you very much. It's the Thom Hartmann Program, broadcasting live from Las Vegas Nevada at the National Clean Energy Summit 4.0. We'll be back.

Transcribed by Suzanne Roberts, Portland Psychology Clinic.

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