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By Elias Hinckley on Oct 31, 2012 with 21 responses

Why a Clean Energy Entrepreneur is Voting for Mitt Romney

This piece is the result of an argument I had with a friend over dinner a few weeks back. He’s asked to remain anonymous, and despite some misgivings (mostly that people will mistake his position for mine) I’m going to share what he wrote. I’m going to call him Mike. Mike is a true clean energy entrepreneur, starting way back with a fuel cell start-up in the late 1990s, he’s run a venture capital firm, been an executive at a solar company and founded another solar company.  I can vouch for him – he’s long and deep in the clean energy business.

Honestly, when he laid this out for me over dinner I was pretty much stunned (despite knowing he has family roots tied to the GOP). Mike is coming up on two decades in clean energy, he understands the climate story, he understands the correlation between hydrocarbon dependence and limits on growth, and most of all he understands the challenges in building in the emerging energy-tech industry. I had assumed that for whatever the balance of the issues were he couldn’t possibly be on board for the presidential candidate who made global warming implications a convention punch-line, who has said that he believes that there is no place for clean energy subsidies and who has defined the path forward to be “extract as much fossil fuel as we can as fast as we can.”

I’m fascinated to see what people think about Mike’s view (and it is just a view, as he, like I do, lives in a state where there is zero question about his vote affecting the electoral college).

Again, these are Mike’s views, not mine (for what it’s worth I view energy and climate as decisively more important than Mike views fiscal management, I think fiscal responsibility belongs with Congress, I remain entirely unclear on how Romeny’s fiscal plan is better than Obama’s, and the world we live in is changing so fast that I don’t think we have any clue what skill sets will be most important for the next four years – now I can get flamed by both sides). I assure you he is very much a real person, but wants to remain anonymous to protect his ability to collaborate with others in clean energy circles that will hold the view (as I do) that a Romney Presidency is an existential threat to the emerging clean energy industries.

Here’s what Mike wrote:

This Halloween is particularly scary for me. There is a demon inside me tormenting my soul. I am a serial renewable energy entrepreneur and I am voting for Mitt. Hear me out. Obviously Obama would invest more in promoting renewables and that would be good for me and my business in the next five to ten years. If Mitt is elected, I may have to find a new job. But as an entrepreneur I live with that fear every day of my life. I am constantly balancing the bi-polar forces of planning for the next phase of company growth while simultaneously contemplating contingency plans in the case something disastrous happens to my business and precious cash flow evaporates.

Why am I in renewables in the first place? I have always wanted to do something meaningful and to me that means taking care of the earth and leaving the world a better place for my kids. I also want to make money in business. My objective for the last 20 years has been to achieve both goals through building renewable energy businesses. That is my own personal logic and game plan, no matter how flawed.

Which brings me to the 2012 Halloween election demons. Obama would continue to stimulate my industry and I may even make a little money in my industry with another 5 to 10 years of subsidies. That appeals to my personal sense of greed and self-gratification. But I see very troubling trends at work right now with regard to the financial viability of our government. So troubling we cannot wait another 4 years to address them. Obama has had four years to address our federal budget and has made very little progress.

The US Government is an extraordinarily complex and large organization. It is insightful to think about our federal government like an organization – a company with a budget and a management team. In 2011, the US Federal Government Budget was $3,598BN – a number so large, it is difficult to comprehend. Add to the size complexity that, for the last 236 years, our CEO has changed every four or eight years (20/44 presidents have served 2 terms), our CFO is made of 530 Reps and Senators who care only about the next election, our legal team is of 9 Supreme Court judges, and we are funding our organization by borrowing from our enemies and asking 53% of our shareholders to fund the organization while 47% pay nothing. To repeat, the US Government is an extraordinarily complex and large organization.

Like any organization, the U.S. government has a P&L and elections are proxy votes for appropriations on the P&L (READ: BUDGETS). For instance, if we elect Obama, the line item on the P&L for renewable energy subsidies will be a lot larger than if Romney were elected. The Federal Government’s P&L/BUDGET is insane. Our country is racing towards a fiscal calamity (if you don’t believe me, watch this video made by a non-partisan accountant who explains the federal budget and do some research on your own: http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/EW5IdwltaAc?rel=0).

In order for our country to turn it around, in order to create that world that is a better place for my children, in order to keep America out of the toilet, we need a leader who will explain this challenge to the American People and address it. We need a leader who understands how to manage budgets and P&L’s and can restructure our ailing organization. Guess who is one of the best people in the history of our country at that exercise?

Of course, being president is more than about managing the federal budget. But being president must include managing the federal budget. Obama has not been able to make progress on this issue and we cannot afford to wait another four years. He does not have the vision, skill set or internal imperative to begin to turn the aircraft carrier. Romney does.

For those of you who feel Mitt would be a disaster on social issues, just think about how far this country has moved culturally in the last 20-30 years. You have state governments trumping the Federal government on a variety of social programs. Defense is an issue – the military establishment is important, it is powerful and it is hard to understand but the candidates agree on many foreign policy and defense issues.

I have been a poor renewable energy entrepreneur since people thought renewable energy was just for crazy tree huggers. I can handle it a while longer or go find another job if I want to make money. It is hard to say and my cleantech colleagues might call me a traitor. But I am an American and I love this country and I am willing to suck it up to fix our problems which are significant. Mitt Romney is the right guy for where we are as a country and I am going to vote for him.

  1. By mark on October 31, 2012 at 6:32 pm

    If Mitt Romney cared about US deficit he would peruse tax cheats with swiss bank accounts.

    What does your friend think about Mitt Romney refusing to show his tax records?

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  2. By mg81992 on October 31, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    First of all, “Mike” puts undue emphasis on debt and deficits. If clean energy, the warming of the planet, and sustainability were his primary issues, he would never be making this choice. Also, frankly, anyone who has really observed this campaign has to see that Romney lacks the character to lead this country.  Newspapers all over the USA have refused to endorse him because of his lies, deceptions, and obvious lack of principle. Who wants someone like that as their President? Obama will do what needs to be done to get the country on a better fiscal course, but he’ll do it without dismantling the social safety net, which “Mike” clearly cares nothing about. In fact, Mike sounds like he’s been reading a little too much Ayn Rand and it’s gone to his head – just as it has with many in the GOP. Jonathan Chait wrote about that very intelligently on New York magazine’s web site today:  http://nymag.com/daily/intel/2012/10/case-against-romney.html

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  3. By Rob on October 31, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    I certainly don’t think your friend is a “traitor”, but I think he’s wrong in his core assumptions about THIS candidate. I care about debts and deficits too. Romney’s plan gives me little faith he takes them as seriously as I do. Your friend cares about facts, and I respect that. For me, I’m voting for the (relatively) more fact-based candidate.

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  4. By Jane on October 31, 2012 at 8:58 pm

    The deficit and the budget more generally are, no doubt, hugely important issues we must grapple with. Laying the lack of progress on them at the feet of President Obama is wrong, however. If that’s the prime issue for “Mike,” he should be more worried about who is leading the GOP side of the House. Their intransigence and utter refusal to work with the president on the budget — going so far as to hold the country’s credit rating hostage, and threaten shut the federal government down entirely to satisfy extremists like Norquist — are the main reasons why so little progress has been made. That said, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans in Congress seem capable of really grappling with the budget. This is a problem decades in the making, as one Congress after another has kicked a whole load of cans down the road. There is only so much a president — any president — can do about that. Romney might be able to extract more compromises from those House GOP and make more progress, but only because he’s their guy, not because he’s a more skilled leader. After the longest and most expensive election campaign in history, Romney remains an empty suit. We have no idea where he really stands on anything, except that he really wants to be elected and will say anything to anyone that might get him there. We do know that the details of his approach to the budget — those few details we’ve been given, at any rate — don’t add up. We also know that it depends on de-funding and privatizing crucial federal safety nets like FEMA and Medicare, initiatives that would be total non-starters once they got to the floor of the Senate (especially now). Mike’s confidence in Romney as an administrator is misplaced.

    Yes, “the line item on the P&L for renewable energy subsidies will be a lot larger than if Romney were elected”…and the line item for fossil fuel subsidies would likely be larger under a Romney administration than under Obama. But either line item is so small in the context of the larger budget issue that it scarcely deserves mention. A few billion more or less on the green or brown sides isn’t going to make a bit of difference. 

    If Mike really wants to see this ship righted, he should be promoting a strong infrastructure and clean energy building program with all his heart. It could create millions of jobs, get cash flowing again, and help to permanently crimp the $400 billion a year we spend on imported oil, not to mention the hundreds of billions more we spend on externalized effects of fossil fuel dependency. It would reinvigorate the domestic manufacturing sector. Presumably, Mike knows this. It’s clear that of the two choices, Obama is the one who would support that. Romney would see the U.S. remaining totally committed to, and dependent on, fossil fuels.

    Sounds like Mike is panicking and voting for Mitt in hopes that rolling the dice on a guy who’s told us virtually nothing about his budgetary plans will somehow improve something. We can forgive him for that. A lot of people are panicked. But he would be wrong to think that simply replacing the CEO with an empty suit, while the rest of the executive staff remains in place, will fix anything.

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    • By OD on November 4, 2012 at 11:46 pm

      Well said Jane!

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  5. By haplito on October 31, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    A few quick things:

    First,

    asking 53% of our shareholders to fund the organization while 47% pay nothing

    is an incredibly specious, and dangerous, line of thought.

    Second,

    Ask yourself, honestly, why Obama hasn’t been able to do anything with the deficit. And then imagine, honestly, what he could’ve accomplished with a Congress whose stated focus wasn’t making him a one-term President.

    And then ask yourself what, exactly, makes Mitt the “right guy” to handle the deficit. His campaign promises, and track record in Massachusetts, don’t really back that argument. And — my apologies to any oligarchs reading this but — I’m highly, highly suspect of the assumption that Accomplished Rich Man = Accomplished Leader of the Free World.

    Third,

    I find this entire line of reasoning smelling of Plug-and-Play Convenient for ConservativesTM. “Mike’s” kind of thinking doesn’t engage with and ferret out tough questions: it reduces them to simplistic answers.

    Is the deficit the only problem facing the nation? Was the deficit ever going to be Issue #1 for whosoever was President the last four years? Did the deficit cause the financial crisis and recession? Would borrowing less from China have saved GM? Would it have floated Wall Street to its recent peaks?

    Personally, I think this election’s about a lot more than one issue. And there’s certainly a lot more to the governance of the greatest and wealthiest nation the world has ever known than sophomoric analogies to smaller, lesser organizations would lead you to believe.

    Yours truly,

    haplito

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    • By doug card on November 1, 2012 at 9:32 am

      Excellent post haplito.  Made your points without having to write the tedious details that prove you correct.  F & F

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    • By ZT on November 1, 2012 at 11:49 am

      Great Response Haplito! “I’m highly, highly suspect of the assumption that Accomplished Rich Man = Accomplished Leader of the Free World.” 

       

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  6. By Reuben on November 1, 2012 at 10:49 pm

    I like the attempt to create a dialogue on this and so have to chime in – That Mike is a clean energy entrepreneur is a false canard. It is not a relevant piece of his ideology on the presidency if the deficit is his dominant issue. On clean energy and climate issues, Romney has shown not just no interest but has gone out of his way to ridicule and obstruct against both ideological and political logic (see ITC and Iowa). Despite the mass infatuation with the deficit, interest rates are at an all time low making this an ideal time for government infrastructure investment that must be done in a sustainable green way vs a grey way. Finally, the Romney deficit plan lacks any reasonable substance. Look at the WaPo calculators. It doesn’t add up so there is NOT in fact a better deficit argument for Romney. His current plan as outlined looks like passing the easy stuff (tax cuts) and then trying to get the loopholes closed (mortgage deduction??? – HARD). There are reasons to push for a true free marketeer or at least an argument as such for clean energy entrepreneurs, but Mike, Mike just seems to be a deficit hawk who hasn’t read the details.

     

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    • By OD on November 4, 2012 at 11:38 pm

      Good post Reuben, I agree.

      I just looked at “Mike’s” follow-up below and he doesn’t address any of these issues. Mike, much like Mitt, uses a lot of words but says very little. 

      What a letdown this article has been. 

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  7. By nobama is goodbama on November 2, 2012 at 1:50 am

    It’s always nice to hear from all the brainwashed worshipers of King oumbama.

    A little factoid for all you oumbama geniuses:  The Environmental Protection Act and the Environmental Protection Agency came to be because of that EVIL WAYCIST WEPUBLICAN PWESIDENT, Richard Nixon.

    Have a c.a.i.r.-free day in dar al harb while it lasts

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  8. By Charles on November 2, 2012 at 10:04 am

    A cleantech wantrapreneur’s viewpoint.

    First, the budget (and deficit) is the primary concern for any organization, from startup to large corp to government. I’d love to spend 100K to build my prototype, finally prove my point, and bring ultra efficient electric hydraulic hybrid drive systems to the masses. People could drive for tenths of a cent per mile, pollution would be dramatically reduced (all the way up the carbon tree), the economy would improve due to dramatically reduced fleet and personal transport cost reductions, and, best of all, I would be Lord God King BooFoo (childhood throwback) and be able to spend most of my profits to help educate people on the thrills (and chills) of innovation and entrepreneurship and create vision centers to build local entrepreneur ecosystems. That’s the plan, anyway.

    But, and its a show stopping, wheel spinning, go nowhere but, I don’t have any money. I have amazing vision, but no money. I have a globally disruptive granted patent, but no money. I have plenty of scientific data to back me up, but no money. I have a vision and a very complete plan on how to pull it off, while making a profit. But today, I have no money.  I simply don’t have enough revenues to cover my planned expenditures  Basic economic rule:  Budgets and deficits matter.

    When Obama started talking about supporting clean energy with government R&D grants for emerging green technologies, you would have thought I would be in like Flint. I have early granted IP with (OK…potentially) the most efficient recycler of energy to date, and a clear economic, social and societal demand. Doubt or say what you want, but a large truck company had its similar patent application rejected due to my patent, and the EPA filed a patent exactly like mine…3 years after mine was granted (someone didn’t look close enough).

    But no,  I am sitting here, four years later, with no money for my prototype. I look at the failed green energy companies such as A123, Solyndra and the other (seemingly crony) Obama favs that just vaporized billions upon billions of dollars, and I shake my head. I couldn’t get a dime. From local folks to state and federal agencies (calling you out, Indiana and the DOE), I was ignored.  I guess I didn’t know the right people. It can’t be the technology, I use simple, existing tech in a novel way, that’s all. It’s surely not the market demand, because we all want a solution…a simple affordable solution. It can’t be the physical system or operational functionality…its a role reversing electric hydrostat for goodness sake. It can’t be the lack of acceptable margin, reliance on unproven and/or  expensive materials, complexity of manufacture, difficulty of integration, prohibitive retail costs, ROI duration, or any other business killing problem. So what the hell? I can’t get it funded. So how on earth do I spend what I don’t have. Budgets matter. 

    I tried to raise private capital. Started with FF&F, wrote the patent myself, and it was grated in 2007 with no objections or rejections of 4 claims and 36 subclaims (self educated, thank you). Big shout out to Baker & Daniels for the filing help and faith (GREAT firm)!!

    Prototype funds were next. But, 2008 wash a financial washout, and I got swept away with the tide. I couldn’t get a dime. I spent thousands of hours educating myself in manufacturing and business, learning all I could and reading the good, bad and the ugly. Of all the things I could have done, I had to pick entrepreneurship. The hardest job with the most difficult path to success. But it has the greatest reward in that you can manifest your visions with useful and needed solutions which also provide the means for others to sustain themselves and their families. So, in pursuit of that, I never quit. I digress.

    Armed with granted IP and a new administration that said it was committed to renewable energy and cleantech, I set out to get funded. Didn’t happen. The government wouldn’t acknowledge me. So I went to private capital and talked to them. Those folks don’t play “Obama-nomics”. If I couldn’t present a clear path to profitable operation, with charts, graphs, testimony, financial projections, supplier data, bill of materials (with every parts individual description and data sheet), a letter from my mother,at least 193% of my own money invested (which will get me exactly 2% ownership of my own IP), and, oh yeah, a FUNCTIONING PROTOTYPE (freakin idiots), I wasn’t getting any play from them either.

    In my most recent attempts, all I hear is Obama. If Romney is elected, these guys say they will start to get off some capital because they know their success will not be vilified and penalized. To them, budgets matter. And if the US Government (The US GOVERNMENT) can’t get it’s financial house in order, and the only way they see that happening is getting Obama out of office, then they will simply close their purse strings and go away. The diehards will still play the venture market, but the majority will leave. For the majority of us, budgets matter.

    I am voting for Romney because he has basic fundamental economics down pat, from family experience osmosis. He should put policies in place which rewards risk and investment, which will stimulate economic growth. We tried the new kid with no business experience, and look where it got us. The guy doesn’t have a clue. He despises wealth and success, has deep animosity towards the US, capitalism  and competition. Economic prosperity grows from personal achievement and inherent personal fortitude. It’s not just the one, but the one’s make up us. We The People. 

     That’s what I am hearing, and I have to agree.    

     

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  9. By Christopher Haase on November 2, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I would love to put blame on Bush or Obama’s mistakes that have taken the U.S. to a historic level of fossil fuel use and blindly claim Romney as the new messiah of jobs and energy….But I would have to ignore our root energy, security and infrastructure problems to do so.

    The fact is that a $4 billion dollar investment in diversifying our energy mix is “a drop in the bucket” when we spend over $2 Trillion dollars on our energy mix a year.

    And the point that voters/investors/politicians are missing is that our grid and energy plants will need a massive update this generation that is not fiscally achievable unless we go with “profitable” energy programs (Avg. Nuke,coal energy plant has exceeded working lifespan).

    They also fail to realize that both sides of the “clean/dirty” coal/tar or sand/shale coins are our nations path to prosperity or poverty.

    IF we increase (profitable) renewables 10 fold, and cut U.S. fossil fuel use 50%…China and 100 other countries are already lined up to purchase U.S. coal/tar/sand/shale gas just like they do our crops. Why does anyone think that the companies who run coal/tar/sand/shale gas industries wouldn’t continue to produce and sell to help those growing nations.

    Historically -  Without U.S. crop exports China and 100 other countries would be devastated with poverty, famine and disease on a scale never witnessed. 
    subsides to stabilize instabilities in our crops insures our nation and these countries thrive even when we have a bad drought (i.e. 2012).

    Subsides to stabilize instabilities in our energy programs are no different for the worlds prosperity… most importantly U.S. safety and security.
    Is it our nations intent to live well on the plight of others? Hardly.

    By being good resource trade partners and responsible stewards of our resources (i.e. sustainable energy/environmental programs) we will not only share in our nations prosperity, but we will do it in such a way that other nations will recognize the U.S. for being the model for sustainable prosperity.

    ——————– begin coffee induced rant ———————-

    “U.S. sustainable energy programs break the most fundamental rule of sustainability by not being fiscally sustainable” – THAT needs to change. Fast.

    The fact is that if we do NOT continue to expand profitable** renewable energy programs we will loose TRILLIONS on coal/shale/sand exports as “burning up” our exports is a pretty bad short term business model. And “selling off” our natural resources is a horrible long-term business model.

    Making renewable energy the best investment by default.

    Does Obama get that? Does Romney? Maybe.
    Would they work together on to fix it? Hardly.

    It is our nations bipartisanship that is killing our energy stability, safety and the longterm success of our energy programs.

    I have made the comment on this site before that: “We need everyone at the table discussing better plans that including everyone benefiting from tangible, cost effective and prosperous options… otherwise, wasting further trillion$ on hopeless policies will kill the economies still left standing and put us decades behind solving anything.”

    Hydro, geothermal and “waste to energy” programs are easy, cheap and can help turn our economy around. But they are not hightech or sexy… so they get little support and little funding (mainly because they don’t need it).

    I figure Hydro,wind  and “waste to energy” were the first energy sources that fueled the U.S. industrial revolution… maybe they can save it.

    ——————– end rant———————-

    Have a good weekend.
    – Haase

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  10. By EnergyGuy on November 2, 2012 at 7:30 pm

    I work in fossil energy.  Obama has only tried to make life more difficult for fossil fuels.  The natural gas boom has been a gift and yet he has done nothing to help it to happen.  Our hemisphere (Canada, USA, Mexico) may now be able to be energy independent but not as long as Obama is president.  Obama has constantly said negative things about private business and entrepeneurs.  Obama’s greatest objectives for a second term are raise somebody’s taxes and keep Obamacare alive.  How are these actions going to help more people get a job?

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  11. By Carolyn Johnson on November 3, 2012 at 6:49 am

    “Mike”s concern about the $16 trillion debt is shared by many Americans, and neither campaign has sketched a persuasive path to addressing it.  I agree that budgets matter, in government as well as business.  But governments have tools to shape the social and commercial landscape that businesses do not.  Permanent subsidies and tax advantages may help the favored today, but they also promote the status quo over innovation.  If we want to see what would be the effect of putting the debt first and running the government as if it were a business (and therefore cutting government expenditures and raising taxes to close the gap), we can check out the effects in the UK, where Cameron has done just that.  The net result is slower growth and more — not less — debt.

    Does cutting taxes and regulation stimulate economic growth?  Perhaps it does for those whose taxes drop (not all 53%) and who are less regulated (Wall Street), but for the rest of us, not so much.  And from a macro historical perspective, tax cuts and deregulation have not delivered economic growth, just more debt.  How much worse would the Great Recession have been without the programs and regulations put into place after the Great Depression?  As Romney said in the first debate:  “we need regulations…”

    Economic growth is the answer to the debt problem:  more people working and paying taxes, fewer forced onto social services.   Cleantech innovation as well as infrastructure spending — both on existing bridges, etc. and the new systems cleantech needs to scale up — are key to economic growth.  Notwithstanding the debate over whether the 2009 stimulus was big enough, as effective as predicted or well spent, there is little doubt that it slowed the slide and stimulated the economy somewhat.  And of the $90 billion invested by DOE in cleantech technologies, only 8% failed, a track record most private equity would be more than happy with.  Wantrepreneur’s experience with private equity is not unusual; they are in the business to make money and are avid searchers for the early signs of winners.  It would be surprising if only 8% of emerging technologies failed going forward and its unrealistic to expect private equity to shoulder all the risk required to bring the new economy into being.

    How can we fund infrastructure and cleantech without growing the debt or raising taxes?  Here’s a suggestion:  create an independent national investment bank.  Instead of government funding, it would be capitalized by a) corporations which would pay 15% corporate profit tax if invested in 5-yr bank CDs, and b) individuals who could invest after tax dollars in the same 5-yr CDs.  After 5 yrs, all capital and interest would be non-reportable income (in other words, tax free).  The bank would invest 40% in (low risk) infrastructure projects, selected by a transparent process and paid off over time the way municipal bonds are now.  Another 40% would be invested in (higher risk) emerging technologies by means of loans or convertible bonds, providing no more than 25% of a project’s overall cost.  It would be a sustainable means for continuously modernizing infrastructure, spreading the risk for and stimulating innovation, attracting both popular and corporate support, de-politicizing infrastructure spending, growing the economy and ultimately reducing the debt.  More details can be found here.

     

     

     

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    • By notKit P on November 3, 2012 at 7:19 pm

      “the status quo over innovation ”

       

      Yesterdays innovation is today;s status quo.

       

      “he $90 billion invested by DOE in cleantech technologies, only 8% failed, ”

       

      Really! I suspect I have a different standard for being successful. If a 40 year old coal plant with zero pollution controls does a better job of making electricity with less environmental impact than ‘clean’ tech I would not call the innovation successful just because the venture is not in Chapter 11.

       

      Should I say not in Chapter 11 yet!

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      • By Jim on November 4, 2012 at 11:38 pm

        Excuse Me? Did you say in the same sentence “40 year old coal plant with zero pollution controls does a better job of making electricity with less environmental impact than ‘clean’ tech”? Have you ever seen a coal plant’s emissions? Have you ever heard of acid rain? Did you hear about the Bloomberg Magazine cover “its global warming – stupid”.

         

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  12. By Russ Finley on November 3, 2012 at 9:54 pm

    It is very unlikely that Romney balances his own check book. Presidents listen to economic advisers. Romney would be no better or worse than Obama when it comes to listening to expert advice. Romney would not make up his own economic plans, would do little if anything to balance the budget.

    Other than social issues, there is little real difference.

     

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    • By Jim on November 4, 2012 at 11:41 pm

      Yeah, I wonder which one of his advisors blundered on the Chrysler moving manufacturing to China statements? I don’t think anyone that can screw up something like that deserves to hold  an office of any type.

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  13. By Mike on November 4, 2012 at 9:58 pm

    So here is Mike’s response…

    Ayn Rand, Hurricane Sandy, Wayne Gretsky, Michael Bloomberg, and George Mitchell

    First, I would like to briefly address some of the comments on my original post.

    Several comments above are very insightful and are, frankly, the reason my voting decision is very difficult. In contrast, to address the Ayn Rand thread, I am a Fountainhead guy not an Atlas Shrugged guy. I respect Roark for his individualism and his determination to stick to his principles through the decades no matter how large the sacrifice. I think most entrepreneurs would agree with that. In terms of Rand’s idea that the wealthy are entitled to govern, I certainly don’t ascribe to this notion and it is troubling to me American politics is driven by capital in the way it is. However, I don’t have a great alternative to offer up (besides the benevolent dictatorship, which doesn’t work out most of the time). There is a high correlation between results-oriented, high talent, high energy, intelligent individuals who make a lot of money in business and who then elect to run for office. These are people who tend to be successful in whatever they do and take on politics, in my opinion, due to a blend of a sense of duty to serve the country that has served them, a need for another challenge, and to appeal to their egos. But it is far from an “entitlement” mentality. American political campaigns are brutally competitive and challenging; wealthy people with an entitlement attitude are at home voraciously consuming resources, not running for office.

    Eli asked me if Hurricane Sandy and Michael Bloomberg’s endorsement of Obama, siting global warming concerns, moved my needle. It moves my needle a great deal! The global warming thesis is what my career is based on and to have a stud like Bloomberg come out in support of the science in such a big way propels the debate forward in a significant way. I wish Bloomberg would run for president as an independent as I would likely vote for him. More importantly, the destruction and pain caused by Hurricane Sandy is a human tragedy and is another data point supporting the global warming theory. I have deep sympathy for all those affected.

    Given my choices this election are Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, neither of these developments change who I am going to vote for. The following is a rather self-indulgent explanation of why:

    For starters, the cost of natural gas is the largest threat to the U.S. renewable energy industry. All renewables (providing electricity) are basically competing with the price of natural gas. God bless the fact we are finding it and we will increasingly become less dependent on foreign sources. This is a win for America. But neither Romney nor Obama are driving that. Guess who drove the shale boom revolution? A visionary entrepreneur named George Mitchell (who occasionally invests in renewable energy, I hear). Prudent environmental policy must guide this industry and states are making their own decisions, within the framework of the EPA. This may be a reason to not vote for Mitt – if he guts the Clean Air Act. Ironically, Sandy will probably make that eventuality even less likely.

    Entrepreneurs like to talk about Wayne Gretsky’s strategy of seeing a play unfold and skating to the spot on the ice where the puck will be, not where it is. Being in the alternative energy field is frustrating because you can skate to the right place before anyone else, but you may be waiting for a decade or three before you get the puck and score. The time lags involved in building renewable energy infrastructure are very long. In order to stick it out, one must have a long term horizon. It is not for the faint of heart or impatient opportunists. It requires patience – it is going to take a long time to get to the point where renewables account for a significant portion of global installed capacity. Energy is not software where 2 guys can write code in a garage, patent it and sell it by the billions the next year. Energy infrastructure involves huge amounts of capital, permitting, moving dirt, banging on steel, electric utilities, municipal governments, flatbed trucks, large construction teams, and most importantly – human consensus. If you spend time in the renewable energy industry a while, you inevitably gain a sense of this long term time horizon. Neither Romney nor Obama is going to meaningfully move the industry forward or back by throwing four years of money at it or vice-versa.

    The genie is out of the bottle for the renewable industry. It is a global industry employing tens of thousands of people around the world. The amount of human capital in the space has increased exponentially in the last two decades and this will not be reversed by our president. Renewables are here to stay. Romney has said he supports them. I believe him. We are over the hump. I remember lobbying Cheney / Bush for the renewable industry – talk about feeling like a nut job! Getting their second administration over the hump by acknowledging renewables was a HUGE victory. The industry is beyond that now. It needs to mature and fight the adult game – with continued rational subsidies, which both camps are supporting.

    In order for any industry to flourish we need a stable economy and a regulatory environment in which industry can address the challenges we face. We cannot be drowned by our interest payments to the Chinese if we are to grow our renewable energy industry. Cash is king. When you have it you have options. When you don’t have cash you don’t have as many options. At a cleantech investor conference a few years ago, Boone Pickens said there were five reasons he wasn’t making a planned wind turbine investment that year: “Reason number one: my fund doesn’t have the money. The other four reasons don’t make a damn bit of difference.”

    As a country, we need to get our financial house in order to accomplish the great things in the realm of sustainability and carbon pricing. This is the biggest human opportunity to do something grand since the Apollo Mission. Think of the opportunities in the realm of sustainable agriculture, transportation, business process improvement – every where you look resource use can be decreased! No matter who wins this election, there will still be entrepreneurs out there battling global warming. And with increasing scientific certainty and luminaries like Bloomberg shining the light on the subject, our culture will continue to move towards addressing the issue in a meaningful way.

    Romney is an ethical man and an intelligent man. He will not kill the renewable industry. He will listen to climate change scientists and make educated decisions. As a country and a planet, we have a long road to hoe on climate change and renewables. In order for the United States to be a leader in this challenge, we must have our own house in order or we will not be making the decisions, they will be dictated to us. Romney will help us get on the path to controlling our own destiny more effectively than Obama. It is counterintuitive at the moment, but taking a long term view, Mitt will help grow the renewable energy industry and combat global warming more effectively in the long run by being a more capable and effective steward of the American economy.

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  14. By Jim on November 5, 2012 at 12:05 am

    Appreciate your logic Mike. As I said earlier, I really struggled with this decision and just resolved it two days ago. The turning point for me was Romney’s blunder over the Chrysler/China statement. That rocked me that he would make such an erroneous statement (while campaigning in Ohio) and that his advisors did not do a better job preparing him . It certainly put a lot of Chrysler employees and auto industry folks in the Obama Camp.

    It also suggests that Romney will say just about anything to win this election. I believe that if elected, Obama finally has nothing to lose in the next four years and may work to make the tough decisions that need to be made, however unpopular they are.  The political Romney will, in my opinion, spend the next four years campaigning for re-election and will avoid doing what needs to be done. 

    We shall see!

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