President Bill Clinton Keynote at Solar Power International 2012 – Transcript

There are things people need to know, even basic things.

At the 27th European Photovoltaic Solar Energy Conference and Exhibition (EU PVSEC) Opening Session, Chairman of the Conference and of the International Energy Agency (IEA) Photovoltaic Programme, Dr. Stefan Nowak said:

One week ago, former President Clinton was at Solar Power International and delivered a speech which you cannot find on the net anywhere because there were no recordings allowed, and I specifically asked for that and there was no way to get that speech.

But I tried to find out a little bit and Bill Clinton also took the word of cooperation as the most important message forward in this whole sector.

Dr. Nowak’s comments impressed me with the international reach of President Clinton’s Keynote Address at SPI 2012 upon solar and photovoltaics beyond our nation’s borders.

Thanks to material from a confidential source, I have been able to recreate a transcript of President Bill Clinton’s Keynote Address at Solar Power International 2012 through painstaking, manual efforts. Punctuation, paragraphs, hyperlinks, and injected observations in parenthesis on the crowd reaction and inaudible portions are my own interpretations.

After an introduction, Julia Hamm, President and CEO of the Solar Electric Power Association (SEPA) said: “Before he comes out, please take a look at this video about the Clinton Foundation.”


Julia Hamm said: “So ladies and gentleman, please join me in giving a rousing warm welcome to our keynote speaker, President Bill Clinton.”

(standing applause)

Now, rather unfortunately, there is a gap here in the source material as President Clinton does the conference greetings and acknowledgements. What follows is the full subsequent transcript of President Clinton’s Keynote Address.

Clinton So I like you guys, I believe in what you are doing. Why don’t you just go home? (applause)

But I‘ll start with a couple of personal observations.

First of all, my Presidential Library was the first federal building ever to receive a Platinum LEED rating (applause) and it’s next door to the international headquarters of a fabulous NGO, Heifer International. And they are the only two headquarters buildings in the world next to each other, and they both have Platinum LEED ratings.

But I only have 308 solar panels, and I put them into my roof in 2005.
And the price has dropped (laughter) and the sun shines in Arkansas so I am taking bids to drastically expand my operation. (laughter)

I am embarrassed by how low a percentage of our power needs we meet with solar and I am going rectify it sooner rather than later. So if anybody wants in on the opportunity, send me an email. (applause)

Second thing I want to say is this. I’ll just tell you a couple of stories.
I am preaching to the saved here, I know that. So the real question is, what about everybody who is not in this room? And a lot of this, you’re going to win this battle you know, the question is when, where, and how. (applause)

So since I’m preaching, I will start with a little Arkansas story.
When I was boy growing up in Hot Springs, Arkansas, there was great guy named Wendy who had bar in my home town that served great sandwiches and at noon time he quit serving liquor so it was legal for school kids to come in and have lunch.

But he had a fascinating way of promoting his bar.
He had little bitty neon sign and it always said, “Wendy’s Free Beer Tomorrow”. (laughter)
And he had a deal with the electric company, I know we got a lot of utilities here, he paid so that the sign was never turned off.

So I was in there one day getting a sandwich and the guy said, “Wendy, I was here yesterday, I want my beer.” He said, “Go out and read the sign.” (laughter)

Tomorrow never came. (laughter)

I’ll tell you another story. (unintelligible)
There was a minster who was a wonderful man who had a big church but he was a terrible preacher. He was boring, like watching paint dry listening to his sermons.

And one day he was overcome with emotion and powerfully eloquent, and people didn’t know what in the wide world had gotten into him.
And he said, “I want everybody who wants to go to heaven to stand up.”
Everybody in church stood up except for this one little old lady in the front row.

He looked at her and said, “Sister Jones, in all these years I have been here, you have been here every time the church doors are open. You are the most devout member of our church. Don’t you want to go to heaven when you die?”

And she jumped up, she said, “Oh yeah, I thought you were trying to get a load to go right now.” (laughter)

Folks we need to get a load to go =right now=. (applause)

Americans need to know more than they now know.
Most Americans do not know 100000 people work in this sector of the economy.

Most Americans would be surprised to know that more people work in this sector of the economy than work in the coal industry for example.

Most Americans would be shocked to know that even in the depths of the recession this sector was growing more than 8%, more than twice the average of even the growth sectors. And that the pay on average is greater.

Most Americans have no idea that in spite of our economic adversity, government support plus having the most vibrant venture capital system in the world, catapulted America to the top spot in combined investments in clean energy in 2011.

Most Americans really don’t know just how much public private cooperation there is or that no country is succeeding in developing this new sector without it.
To listen to the people who are on the other side of this debate, you would think that the President and his allies in Congress just totally robbed the Treasury to subsidize bankrupt industries starving all those poor people in yesterday’s energy economy.

When in fact there are still twenty-two dollars ($22) in subsidies for coal, oil, and nuclear for every dollar ($1) that’s invested in public funding for a clean energy future. (applause)

I want to keep my word here about being bi- or multi- partisan or what ever the politically correct word is and favor arithmetic over ideology. (muted laughter)

The Baker Center in Tennessee, named after the former Senator Republican leader Howard Baker, recently did a study and said that all these supports that were given to solar and wind and other renewables were in no way out of line with what America has traditionally done for other kinds of industries trying to develop them.

So there, Americans don’t know but they need to know that. (applause)

Most Americans don’t know that the European economies coming out of the economic crisis with the best future prospects are those that also have the best energy policies.

That Denmark generates 25% of its electricity from wind but also gets quite a lot from solar, mostly localized photovoltaics.

That Sweden adopted the world’s first revenue neutral carbon tax in 1991.
Actually a conservative government did it. They did something no one had ever tried to do. They said, we are going to send you a tax bill every year to show the burden your carbon usage is putting on our environment, our economy, and our future.

And then we trust you. We’re going to give you the money back.
So if you insist on spending the same old way and running us into the ditch have at it. We trust you. By the time we did the Kyoto treaty in 1997, the Swedes had gotten so much more energy efficient that their Kyoto target was a 4% increase over their 1990 emissions. But instead they reduced it within a decade by 7% more and grew the economy 50%.

And we all know the story of Germany.
On one bright spring day using the sun alone they generated the equivalent of twenty nuclear power plants. In a country where on average the sun shines as much as I does in London. (applause)

And to hear the opponents say you know that’s because those terrible profligate Germans threw money at solar and practically bankrupted the country. That’s not what the little towns that are earning money think. That’s not what the farmers who are earning money think. And it’s not what Deutsche Bank thinks. (laughter)

Go read the Deutsche Bank study, not Greenpeace, the Deutsche Bank study. They say the Germans have netted 300000 jobs out of their commitment to a solar future even accounting for the drag of the Feed-in Tariff.
They are net ahead.

But most Americans don’t know that.
Most Americans don’t know this is not just a rich country phenomenon.

I’ve just been working in one of the harder challenges we have today, putting solar power up in Haiti the poorest country in the Caribbean.

When we started, you need to know this if you don’t.
The Caribbean, where on every island the sun shines and the wind blows, where there are virtually no waste to energy projects, has the highest electric rates in the world. Of all the regions in the world.

And Haiti has the highest electric rates of any country in the Caribbean even though it’s the poorest country in the Caribbean.
Average of 36 cents a kilowatt-hour.
I believe the most expensive American state is 16 cents, something like that.

So it shouldn’t surprise you that even before the earthquake in a country where two thirds of the people are living on less than $2 per day, 85% of the people didn’t have electricity in their homes.

And a country that once got a lot of new investment in manufacturing because labor costs were low, was having a hard time in a world where energy and transportation costs and materials cost are an increasing higher percentage of manufacturing and labor costs are an increasing lower percentage if it.

So a lot of people are trying to solarize the schools.

And when we had a housing expo several months ago, in anticipation of a big boom in home building, the group of owners that I was pleased to chair as a representative of the United Nations, required that every home built, even the smallest, most meager home, had to have good sanitation with provisions for clean water so we couldn’t spread cholera and had to be equipped to handle photovoltaic cells so that people could have their own lighting, power their radios and their TVs, parents could work, and the kids could study at night.

Now the largest solar building in the entire Caribbean is the new teaching hospital built by Partners In Health founded by Dr. Paul Farmer and Dr. Jim Kim, now the president of The World Bank. It has 1800 solar panels; it’s the biggest solar building in the Caribbean. It produces a surplus of power, and luckily, they built the hospital close to a good road with enough electrical wiring that they could actually feed it back into the grid.

I was just in Costa Rica where 92% of the energy is clean energy, all hydro.
But they have enormous active volcanoes which could give you a lot of geothermal. They are just scratching the surface with solar.

And the President of Costa Rica, listen to this, who is in the center right party, she would be a moderate Republican if she were American, and an endangered species. (loud laughter)

Imagine this conversation occurring in our country. She said they tell me we almost certainly have oil off the coast of Costa Rica and beneath the ground and we have no intention of finding out. We do not want to know. (applause)

And I said why? She said that’s not our brand, and that is not our future.
She said you know 26% of our land is now in national parks. 51% is forested. We were up from 41% to 51% over the last decade despite all of our growth, 40% of our exports are made by manufacturers owned by Silicon Valley high tech companies.

But we got the trees back up because those of us in the cities agreed to pay higher water bills and send the surplus to the farmers in the hills so they would plant trees not tear them down.

Creative cooperation. Public. Private. Rural. Urban.

And she said I just got one problem. I said what is it.
She said we still import a $1 billion worth of oil to run our cars.

I said well, what can I do about it? She said get me an electric car manufacturer down here. She said we can make cars here, and I will guarantee you that we will buy 100% of the output every single year until every Costa Rican is in an electric car and we have a health clinic and a school in every community so recharging will be no problem and then when we are all done, they can export to Mexico or the United States without duty. (applause)

So it’s not just a race between China and the United States.
People who are thinking about where the future is are going there.

I also want to say just a word about climate change.
It is simply not true that it’s a toxic subject and that Americans don’t believe in it.
What they don’t know is that there is an economically beneficial response to it.

But I got tickled because in Virginia in the last year you had an Attorney General who wanted to sue a professor at the state university because he was being paid by the taxpayer dollars and he had the gall to do a study that said climate change is real. Obviously a subversive act wasting the taxpayer’s money. (some laughter)

At the same time, coastal Virginia cities, including those with Republican mayors, were working like crazy to try to come up with plans to deal with the rising level of the oceans including moving houses back further from the ocean or building them higher or reinforcing the foundations because it was the only way they could get insurance.

Because the big reinsurance companies of the world have already decided climate change is real. Their natural disaster related insurance losses have at least doubled from decade to decade twice now, in one case tripled. And they know we have to make these changes.

But there are good economic alternatives.

So I would like to say to all of you, I am not as despondent.
But there are too many things people don’t know.
And there is too much money behind the lobbying and the advertising about yesterday’s energy.

Most people don’t really know what happened with Solyndra.
So if you don’t put up a defensive then the worst attacks seem true.
But all of you know what happened. It was an innovative, interesting design that was supposed to increase the efficiency of photovoltaics which has stubbornly resisted going above 20%, right, and they were going to get there but it cost a whole lot more per unit to develop. And like all electrical products, the price goes down as the volume goes up.

The loan was extended, in fact, I believe because they thought that would allow the company to keep going until volumes got up so then the price would be competitive after which no one foresaw the extra $32 billion dollars in subsidies the Chinese gave their solar industry which lengthened way beyond any reasonable time the number of years it would take for the new technology to become commercially viable and credit the whole thing coming backwards.

But since no one explained that to the American people, they can be forgiven for listening to the worst possible explanation.

There are things people need to know, even basic things.

I have never read an analysis of comparative capacity of nations to produce electricity from the sun and the wind that did not rank the United States first or second in both categories in capacity.

When President Bush was in office, his Energy Department actually said there was enough wind blowing between North Dakota’s border with Canada and the West Texas border with Mexico to electrify Texas many times over. That North Dakota before they found all that gas and oil they could frack up was supposed to have enough wind to electrify 25% of America.

But the problem and it’s one of the beauties of solar is it’s both concentrated and distributed is that in America, with minor exceptions, cities in California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico, the sun shines brightest and the wind blows hardest where the people are not.

So you have to build them like the Ivanpah Project I saw recently on the border of California and Nevada. Where you have the distribution there or we need to modernize the electrical grid, which I think we need anyway for other reasons, reasons of efficiency. (applause)

People don’t know that.

We got to get the policies right, the policies may be difficult to understand for average voters but they get whether the economics are right.

When I was in the Ivanpah Project, all of you know this, but it’s a cooperation between NRG, Google, BrightSource, and others with loans guaranteed by the Department of Energy and guaranteed power supply projects from California which has a 33% Renewable Energy Standard to meet.

That’s something else I want to say something about.
You want to know one thing you can do whatever happens in the congressional races.

The Federal Government’s own most recent documents about all the support programs for energy I have recently read them all.

Everyone assumes that given the current level of support with the expiration of the 1603 program and the question of the Wind tax credit hanging fire that we will be at like 15% renewables by 2030. Europe will be at 20 by 2020. California is going to be at 33. If we are first or second in the world, and we’re not first in the world in the percentage of power generated from renewables. Shame on us. We can do better. (applause)

I also think that one of the beauties of solar power is that it has the capacity directly to bringing revenues selling power and indirectly to allow a people to power themselves and avoid paying for power directly to alleviate the problems of some of the poorest Americans.

The proposed project that the Moapa Indians are doing with K Road Power is an example of that.

Secretary Salazar fast tracked the permitting process, they are about to start construction. Right now they are breathing coal ash from a 50-year old coal fired power plant that hurts their health.

Before you know it they’ll have a big nice solar facility that will be selling power bringing income to the reservation which they can then use, if they’re smart, to reinvest in the education and health care of their children and in diversifying their economy.

One of reasons a lot our native reservations can’t do any business over the Internet, can’t take advantage of ecommerce at all, is they don’t have the power connections necessary for the hookups.

To illustrate this when I was President, I went up to Window Rock reservation in New Mexico to congratulate a young woman whose technological savvy was so great, she was thirteen or fourteen years old, she had won a new computer, and she couldn’t hook it up.

So I’ll say again, in spite of all the poverty problems in America, the poorest Americans are still the first Americans who live on tribal lands without gambling.

Lucky for us they have the sun and they have the wind and we ought to give them the means to lift themselves out of poverty, diversify their economies, and make a new future that will help us all. (applause)

Now I just want to, in the spirit of preaching to the saved, tell you one story.
We have a lot of partners in the Clinton Global Initiative who do great things in solar. Build solar villages in Ethiopia. A story in the morning paper. Someone came to us with a study and said you know we could be employing 50000 people in Ethiopia in the solar business if we developed our capacity.

One of our partners is a network of private business schools called the Hult Business School Network, for profit business schools all over the world.
And their commitment to the Global Initiative is every year to put out between one and three of the problems we are trying to solve. And any business school or any economics department in the world, not just their school, anybody can enter the competition. And the students present caseworks designed to solve these problems, and they give a cash prize if you win.

Last year was particularly interesting.
They said you know Habitat for Humanity is one of the biggest homebuilders in the world and they have done a really wonderful job but it’s hard to scale. How can you take the model and build a million houses a year?

Then they said this One Laptop per Child program is really interesting but how can you make a difference in a short amount of time? These kids are not getting any younger. How can you do 20 million a year?

The third problem was how can you get non-distributed solar power to 20 million people in a year so the schools, hospitals, and homes have it in the poorest parts of the world? What’s the model?

Here is the interesting thing and the point I want you all to make.
The winning team was from New York University from their campus in Abu Dhabi. And there were four students who won. They did this together. And when I tell you who they were it will make the point that is at issue in America. About are we going to extend the wind credit, revitalize the 1603, are we going to stay with the solar path we are on.

The students were from India and Pakistan from China and Taiwan.
And when I called them up to give them the prize, I said you sure all you guys want to be in a picture together that appears in your hometown newspaper? (laughter)

And they said we are so over it.
The future is about solar panels. (laughter, applause)

So you represent to me the possibility of putting America in the future business.
Most of the work my foundation does is not in solar power, we do some, we just scratch the surface on energy efficiency, that’s a big part of the deal here.
But I’ll give you an example of one of things I’d like to see done in the future.

There are all these really compelling home retrofit programs going on around America today that don’t have to go through a lot of regulatory hoops.

Nebraska for example. Conservative Republican Nebraska is the only state in the country where everybody gets socialized power.
Municipal power utilities deliver all the power.
So there is a company there called Pioneer Solutions which will come into any middle class home on any day you say and they promise to be in and out in eight hours and they will save you anywhere between 20 to 24% of your bill in just eight hours.

They promise, they guarantee, they pay if they don’t make it. Why shouldn’t any company that has a reputable model doing that also offer people solar options on their roofs? There are all kinds of things we can do to increase our numbers.

Florida has done a really great job I think in the Florida utility in promoting solar power but you still almost never see any PV cells on the top of these buildings. This state, if we solarized every building in this state and built some concentrated units here we could just shut down the rest of the country. (applause)
You know except for a few days that have hurricanes or something, but you get it. (laughter)

When you leave here you think about those kids.
Your think about the blood that has been shed and the problems that have been caused by the differences between India and Pakistan the anxiety that still exists about the unresolved issue between China and Taiwan and there they were, four students from those countries creating a new future for people half a world away in dirt poor countries that they knew were smart, willing to work hard, and full of ideas and they were going to let them out and set them free.

You represent the future and I still think if we sell this as keeping America at the head of the future business, you will prevail.

Thank you very much.

(standing applause)

President Clinton’s keynote was followed by a chat between Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) President and CEO Rhone Resch and President Bill Clinton. That sounds like fodder for a follow up SPI 2012 post.

Both “SPI 2012: President Bill Clinton addresses the solar industry” by Anne Fischer for SolarNovus and “Clinton to Solar: ‘You Represent the Future’ and ‘You Will Prevail’” by Herman K. Trabish for Greentech Media have good comprehensive coverage of President Clinton’s keynote and subsequent conference side chat.

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