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Before Obama Speech, American Energy Innovation Council Pushes Agenda

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With President Obama set to address the Gulf oil spill, cap and trade legislation, and alternative energy sources in a speech to the nation Tuesday night, June 15, the country’s top business leaders want it known they have ideas of their own.

The American Energy Innovation Council‘s (AEIC) mission is to “foster strong economic growth, create jobs in new industries, and reestablish America’s energy technology leadership through robust, public investments in the development of world-changing energy technologies.”

The group, which made its debut last week, is comprised of former Lockheed Martin head Norman Augustine, Xerox chairman and CEO Ursula Burns, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, Kleiner Perkins partner John Doerr, Bank of America Chairman Chad Holiday, General Electric chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt and Cummins Inc. chairman and CEO Tim Solso.

The call for heavy public investment from private sector leaders might come as a surprise for some, but the Council insists the job is too big for the private sector alone.

“There are two reasons the government must play a key role in accelerating energy innovation,” according to the group’s Web site. “First, innovations in energy technology can generate significant, quantifiable public benefits that are not reflected in the market price of energy…Second, the energy business requires investments of capital at a scale that is beyond the risk threshold of most private-sector investors. This high level of risk, when combined with existing market structures, limits the rate of energy equipment turnover.”

A slow turnover rate, the group claims, exacerbates the historic dearth of investments in new ideas, creating a vicious cycle of what it calls “status quo behavior.”

The group lists five recommendations for achieving its goals, which consist of the creation an independent national energy strategy board; the investment of $16 billion per year in clean energy innovation; the creation of centers of excellence with strong domain expertise; the funding of an ARPA-like energy project at $1 billion per year, and the establishment of a “New Energy Challenge Program” to build large-scale pilot projects.

By heeding its five recommendations, the group feels the government can unleash the nation’s technology potential.

“In the defense, health, agriculture, and information technology industries, this country has made a deliberate choice to use intelligent federal investments to unleash profound innovation,” the group says. “As a result, the country leads in all those realms. In energy, however, the United States has failed the grade, and is paying a heavy price for that failure. We are optimistic about the potential for dramatic change in the energy realm. To seize this opportunity, America must put aside partisan interests and make a strong, bold commitment.”


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