Ted Turner and Tim Wirth Talk Energy
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Submitted by EFC Team on September 25th, 2009

This week, the Energy Future Coalition co-sponsored The National Energy Summit and International Dialogue with the Council on Competitiveness and other partners.  Steering Committee members Senator Tim Wirth and Ted Turner participated in the dialogue “Enabling Technology Cooperation and Deployment to Achieve Energy Security, Sustainability andComptetitiveness.”

An excerpt follows, and the complete transcript can be found hereClick here for a video of the panel.

On the panel:

  • Hon. Timothy E. Wirth — President, United Nations Foundation
  • Dr. Dan E. Arvizu — Director, National Renewable Energy Laboratory
  • His Excellency Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson — President of Iceland
  • Robert Edward “Ted” Turner, III — Chairman, Turner Enterprises, Inc.

Timothy Wirth: Our job isn’t describing the problem, but to figure out what we do next and how to mobilize our resources to make a difference. Three questions: What are the public policy measures that will be necessary for the US to be competitive around the world and deal with this issue? What are the rules related to tech sharing and transfer that let us all take advantage of our positions? And how do we finance this?  Ted Turner, you’ve turned your attention from telecom to the energy world. Do you see parallels?

Ted Turner: There’s a big difference between information and energy, but what they have in common is techonological breakthroughs that create new ways of distribution.We need a new, digital energy system just like we built a highway system in the 1950s. We should focus on wind, solar, biofuels, geothermal and get going — we need to move quickly. If it costs more in the short term, that’s not so bad — you have to think long-term. One reason I made billions is that my competitors, who had infrastructure where I didn’t have any, were thinking about tonight’s ratings and I was thinking 10, 20 years ahead. You can’t stick your head in the sand and think it should just go away. We’re going to run out of fossil fuels, we’re polluting the atmosphere. We’re getting bankrupt spending all our money on foreign fuel. Phase out incentives for coal and gas and move that over to renewable fuels. We have to let Congress know we want a good, clean energy bill passed before Christmas.

Timothy Wirth: The government of Iceland is a model in its shift to a sustainable economy. Pre-WWII, Iceland was poor, but they’ve had a complete transformation.

His Excellency Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson: It’s due to an entire generation of scientists, engineers, and policymakers who discovered that clean energy was essential. This hasn’t just produced economic savings — every decade of domestic power production saves one year’s worth of gross national income. And by being 100% clean energy, we’ve become a magnet for investments. That wouldn’t be the case if we didn’t have clean energy. Just as Denmark uses wind power and decided to innovate and has become a leading global power, clean energy creates a strong foundation for the standard of living in the country.

Timothy Wirth: Are there clear steps that need to be taken?

Dan Arvizu: There are a number of mechanisms — price on carbon, increase access, decrease water use, etc. What remains is the question of how to kickstart a market. There’s a lot of capital sitting on the sidelines waiting for definitive rules. With the right policies, a number of technologies can become viable today. Energy will change in ways that are difficult to recover from if we don’t do something. Innovation will get us to where we need to go — 50 years from now, I’m not sure where we’ll be headed.

Timothy Wirth: How do we get to the scale of change that’s necessary?

Dan Arvizu: This is a global problem — the research community is engaged, governments need to be engaged. We can’t be fearful of competition. We can solve these problems if we work cooperatively together on the research side and on the public policy side.

His Excellency Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson: It has to be a coalition — that’s why I came here. The Council on Competitiveness is a manifestation of this issue. If we all work together, the politicians will realize that this is a new political reality. In my company, it was people coming together on a local level that achieved this. Somehow this country functions best when you realize there’s a problem or a threat. Get the message across.

Ted Turner: Doing things right makes you feel good and makes you happy. We should tell our government that. Doing the right thing is the right thing to do.

Timothy Wirth: We all have to make our voices heard — standing on the sidelines is not going to get it done.

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