Cleantech Entrepreneurs Speak Out for Obama’s Energy Plan
Barack Obama probably doesn’t have to worry much about the cleantech vote. A handful of renewable energy entrepreneurs couldn’t say enough good things about the Democratic presidential candidate in a press conference this morning at the Propel Biofuels station in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood.
The cleantechies gave me a series of blank stares when I asked if they know a single soul in the renewable energy industry who’s supporting Sen. John McCain, the Republican candidate. They were brought in to the event by the Obama campaign, which is advocating a 10-year, $150 billion plan to boost alternative energy. The plan includes a goal of getting 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015, and aims to generate one-fourth of the nation’s electricity comes from renewable sources by 2025.
“I’m an independent, I’ve voted for Republicans and Democrats in the past,” said Michael Weaver, CEO of Redmond, WA-based Bionavitas, a developer of algae-based biofuels. “I think the key issue this election is energy security, both in terms of the economy and the military. The strongest candidate is clearly Senator Obama.”
Before the event started, I chatted with Imperium Renewables CEO John Plaza, who has been pretty tight-lipped about recent struggles with his own company, including layoffs. He didn’t want to say anything more about that situation, but he livened up on the subject of Obama’s energy plan.
“You and I have never seen an aggressive, forward-thinking perspective on energy like this from a presidential campaign,” he says. “I just turned 43, so I’ve been following politics for 20 years. You look at Reagan, he took the solar panels off the White House. The first Bush never talked about alternative energy, it was about securing petroleum. Clinton talked about it, but oil was at record lows of $15 to $20 a barrel in the 1990s. Now we realize we have a real problem.”
During the press conference, Plaza turned a bit more combative, saying with McCain, “all he gives are platitudes and generalities.” He criticized the Arizona Senator’s support for more offshore oil drilling. (Nobody mentioned that Obama also is willing to support some more offshore drilling, in addition to conservation and investment in alternatives.)
There was some irony in the setting of the press conference, too. It was hard to hear many of the speakers, who stood at a podium between a pair of biodiesel pumps. They were drowned out by the noise coming from a lot of conventional diesel-powered dump trucks rumbling along Valley Street to construction sites.
Just when I started wondering if high prices of renewable fuels are sinking consumer demand, and possibly dragging down enthusiasm for Obama’s energy plan, a sign emerged. Just as I was interviewing Propel Biofuels CEO Rob Elam about how business has gone since the station opened in June, a customer in a Mercedes SUV pulled up for some biodiesel.
After some brief chit-chat with the customer, Elam pointed out that his 20 percent biodiesel blend fuel, called B20, was selling for $4.78 a gallon, about a dime cheaper than a conventional diesel station nearby. He didn’t disclose sales figures, but said they are climbing every week. I bet Obama’s people are keeping their fingers crossed that the trends stay that way through November, which will make it a little bit easier to fuel the American public’s fire for a big new alternative energy plan.