Market News

 July 01, 2009
It's Not Just a Climate Change Bill


In the ensuing media onslaught since the House passed the "Climate Change Bill," one thing has been lost.

It's not just a climate change bill. It's also an energy bill. Initially, at least, this was supposed to be advantageous to the bill's passage. It has proven anything but.

Lost somewhere among the dubious estimates of how much this bill would cost citizens and the clever, punnish names being used to decry cap and trade is the more important part of this bill. . . for energy investors and for the country.

It's the energy part of the bill. And it's been all but ignored. The bill, after all, is called the American Clean Energy and Security Act. No cap or trade in the title.

Let's not forget that carbon (and other greenhouse gases) will eventually be capped or taxed. The Supreme Court has already granted the EPA authority to do this via its ruling on a multistate lawsuit. That gives the EPA power to regulate CO2 — with or without Congress.

Perhaps you missed this gem of policy detail that broke earlier this year.

While it won't be necessary to regulate emissions, Congress's help would be nice for changing our energy future by leveling the playing field for renewables.

That's where energy security will come from. That's where the money can be found. And that's what we should be focusing on.

The Energy Bill of 2009

The forgotten energy portion of this bill requires us to get 12% of our power from renewable sources such as wind and solar by 2020. It also mandates as much as 8% in energy efficiency savings.

But it won't just guarantee our use of renewables will more than quadruple, from about 2% of the mix today. This bill, when it emerges from the Senate, could be an energy piñata with something for everyone. And everyone seems to be forgetting that.

If it passes that chamber, it's likely to emerge more closely resembling an energy bill that quietly passed a Senate Committee earlier this month. That version includes opening up large areas of offshore drilling, funds for cleaner coal, and a new gas pipeline in Alaska.

A separate Senate bill considers capping emissions.

If the Senate tacks on their provisions to the House version — and strips the cap and trade title — we could actually see passage of a meaningful energy bill this year. One that placates both sides of the aisle. One that significantly boosts renewables while still making significant contributions to the oil, gas, coal, and nuclear industries. One that would leave the door cracked for the EPA to regulate emissions sans Congress.

And one that would make energy investors nice profits as it was enacted.

The Non-Energy Bill of 2009

Of course, that's the optimistic scenario. The energy bill could always fall victim to the pedestrian partisan process we're all accustomed to by now.

I'll admit I'd like to see the House version signed into law. It would be a certain boon to green investing. But that's a political unreality and — dare I say it — probably bad policy.

So, we're either going to get a non-partisan energy bill that actually makes progress on all energy fronts, or we're going to get nothing.

But, I'll let you in on a little secret: renewables win either way. Other sectors only win if national legislation is passed.

It's a bold claim, I know. But here's the reasoning. . .

A national renewable energy policy passed by Congress would cover all 50 states, which sounds impressive and certainly generates headlines. What goes unmentioned, however, is that 32 states already have some form of renewable electricity mandates — some more strict than the national policy could dream of being.

Maine's 40% renewables requirement by 2014, for example, makes Congress's 12% by 2020 look paltry by comparison.  And it will happen whether Congress acts or not.

By the way, 32 out of 50 is 64%, or about the percentage of Senate votes needed to pass legislation. Doing it at the state level could allow states whose senators would support the bill to proceed, leaving the remaining states to craft their own energy policies.

And that might not be a bad thing. States with good solar resources, like Arizona, could pursue a solar-intensive renewable energy standard. North Dakota could use more wind. And so on.

Energy policy could be tailored to individual states and could have better results than a blanket energy policy.

And renewables would still win.

Plus, you wait and see how many of those abstaining 18 states adopt progressive energy policies when 1) they see how well it works in other states, 2) they realize long-term energy prices would be lower with renewables, 3) fossil fuel prices once again reflect their looming scarcity, and 4) the executive branch sidesteps the legislative process to limit emissions.

We may not need a massive energy bill when 50 smaller ones can accomplish the same thing.

The bottom line here is that we should be focusing on the energy part of this bill. Doing a good job of that, even if it means nixing cap and trade at the moment, would do much to help secure our energy future, increase efficiency, and help stabilize long-term energy prices.

Those are all good things. And they can be even better for investors. The Alternative Energy Speculator is proving it day in and day out. That growing group of thousands of investors averaged more than one cleantech win per week for the entire first half of the year.

And that is just the beginning of a decades-long trend. Hundreds of opportunities will arise, but here's a peek at the next three.

Call it like you see it,

Nick Hodge