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The New A-Team for California Clean Energy

By Nicole Lederer
August 8, 2012

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There’s a powerful new alliance taking shape in California that holds great promise for the state’s economy – a partnership between the U.S. Navy, the state of California and the clean energy industry. Recently, this triumvirate came together at a Navy Week event in Sacramento.

Officials from the Navy were there, along with representatives of the governor's office, California Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and state Sen. Fran Pavley (author of the game changing CA global warming bill). Rounding out the party were 12 CA clean energy companies currently doing business with the Navy, including Solazyme and BioDico, both providing innovative biofuel alternatives to the military.

The message we were all there to deliver is this:

The Navy is aggressively seeking to lower the liability and financial burden of its fossil fuel dependence, and it’s counting on the private sector to help it achieve that objective. Clean energy innovators, in turn, need public policy to help bring their technologies to commercial scale. And when the three of these work together, they can get the job done - regardless of what goes on in Washington, DC.

This alliance represents enormous opportunity for California, which ranks first in the nation among states that attract capital for energy innovation. In 2011 California saw $3.72 billion in private investment in the Cleantech sector, about seven times more than Massachusetts which ranked second at $536 million, according to data from Cleantech Group and Clean Edge. On a per capita basis venture investment in clean energy in California was $98.76 compared to MA at $81.36. There were 169 venture capital investments in clean energy companies in California in 2011, more than the next nine states combined, at 104.

Other states might want to take note – Senator Pavley has a new bill that advances CA’s clean energy relationship with the Department of Defense to a new level. The Energy Security Coordination Act instructs all CA agencies to cooperate with DOD on the development of clean energy technologies that could be simultaneously deployed by the state and the military, and to take advantage of any opportunities for collaboration. It acknowledges the military’s role as a huge customer for CA energy products, and formalizes state government’s role in fostering the growth of the clean energy industry. It’s policy like this that draws clean energy companies to the state – and it’s a reason why the DOD comes to CA to shop. 

While we were in Sacramento, out on the Pacific, the Navy was simultaneously demonstrating the fruits of this partnership. For the first time, the Navy was operating an entire carrier strike group - ships and aircraft - on a blend of clean, drop in biofuels as part of the Rim of the Pacific exercises.

The Navy's Great Green Fleet project is one of the most promising attempts to do what military commanders across all forces have said is imperative for our fighting forces to do: Get off of fossil fuels, which limit their fuel sources to a single choice, make them vulnerable to the whims of foreign oil markets and suppliers who want to do us harm, and cause myriad other problems for our national security, our health and our environment.

Some short-sighted lawmakers in Congress are trying to force our military to retreat on developing alternative fuels. Hopefully, they can learn from the successful partnership that's developing here in California between our businesses, our military and our state government, and do what they're supposed to do: Work for the benefit of this country.

Nicole Lederer is Co-Founder of Environmental Entrepreneurs (www.e2.org), a national, nonpartisan organization of business leaders promoting strong environmental and economic policy. She leads E2's federal advocacy work, supporting policies that foster environmental innovation, and sustainable economic development and job creation.

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