Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Hearing on China and Clean Energy

Today the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources met to discuss China’s effort in clean energy and how we can collaborate and/or compete with them to gain a foothold in the clean energy industry. The chairman of the committee Senator Jeff Bingaman started off the hearing saying that he has been impressed with China’s deployment of clean energy in recent years. He asked a series of questions to spark discussion including what are the appropriate relations between the United States and China, how do we promote competitiveness, and what can we do together to deploy clean energy efforts? Ranking Member of the committee Senator Lisa Murkowski chimed in to assert her opinion that we are not falling behind in the clean energy race but rather we are leaders in innovation and should not be copying China to get ahead.

The witness panel consisted of five members from a variety of organizations. Justin Wu from Bloomberg outlined China’s clean energy efforts, which though extensive, have not been as successful as most think. While they spend a lot of money on solar and wind farms, they are often not as efficient as ours in the United States are, and many of these farms are not even hooked up to the energy grid. Dr. Derek Scissors of The Heritage Foundation took the offensive against China saying that they spend a great deal of money with little return on investment. Dr. Scissors seems to believe that the United States should do nothing to imitate the actions of China because they have been reckless.

While the topic of the hearing was meant to examine China’s efforts towards clean energy against our own efforts, it was difficult to stray away from mentioning tax policy because it plays such a big role in domestic renewable energy efforts. Though many of the panelists would put their faith in a tax policy free of incentives, Senator Al Franken pointed out that he had a hard time thinking of an industry that has not benefitted from government subsidies at some point. Senator Murkowski poignantly asked that if we are to talk about this as a clean energy race, what is the metric for measuring who is winning?  Some of the panelists provided loquacious answers without actually stating a metric. Wu put it simply: the metric is cost-effectiveness, meaning whoever can produce the most clean energy devices that actually work efficiency using the least amount of money wins. I tend to agree. The full testimony can be viewed here.