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Follow Up: White House Forum on Clean Energy Manufacturing

Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke kicks off a Clean Energy Economy Forum on clean energy manufacturing at the White House.

Ed Note: Last Friday, Secretary Locke kicked off a Clean Energy Economy Forum on clean energy manufacturing at the White House. You can watch the video of the opening remarks below and the videos of the first and second panels on YouTube.

Last Friday, I joined Obama administration colleagues and business leaders from across the country to participate in a forum on clean energy innovation at the White House. I told the group that the development of clean energy and energy efficient technologies could spur the greatest economic opportunity of the 21st century. That's a sentiment shared by President Obama, as well as many leaders attending Friday’s clean energy forum. But for all this promise, the overwhelming consensus among forum members was that we’ve got to do more to scale up America’s clean energy industry.

Consider the fact that since President Obama entered office, America has invested $80 billion in clean energy through the Recovery Act, passed the toughest fuel economy standards in history and incentivized more stringent efficiency standards for buildings, appliances and consumer-electronics.  Meanwhile, the Commerce Department and other federal agencies have made clean energy a priority in our export promotion efforts.  And we are also requesting applications for a newly formed Advisory Committee on Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency to advise me on the development and administration of programs and policies to expand the competitiveness of the U.S. renewable energy and energy efficiency industries. Applications are due by July 30, 2010.

These steps are unprecedented and are serving as a crucial down payment on America's clean energy future. But unlocking the potential of clean energy -- and the good jobs that come with it -- will require mobilizing the ingenuity of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs in the private sector to deliver breakthrough energy technologies. This is why President Obama – along with Fridays’ forum participants and corporate heavyweights ranging from U.S. Steel and Nike to John Deere and IBM – are pushing for the Senate to pass comprehensive energy legislation that features a price on carbon.

For decades, the fundamental problem with clean energy investments is that their viability has risen and fallen with the price of oil – which means that a $200 million investment in a new solar farm that is profitable when oil is at say, $100 a barrel, becomes a money loser when oil suddenly drops to $70. Comprehensive energy legislation needs to end this uncertainty with surefire market signals to every entrepreneur and business in America that it’s safe and profitable to make long-term investments in clean energy and efficiency. That’s what a price on carbon would do.  This is the type of bold action America needs, especially when you consider that countries, such as Germany and China to Brazil, are making aggressive moves to grow their own clean energy industries. We are in a race, and as President Obama has said, it is a race where we cannot accept second place for the United States of America.

Gary Locke is the Secretary of Commerce