Renewable energy leaders on Monday said the United States is moving too slowly to turn the economy green, despite support of the administration of President Barack Obama.
Executives from wind and solar, and other industries in the expanding world of "cleantech" argued utilities should be required to buy much more renewable energy and warned that unless the federal government closes a hole in climate legislation, the energy can't reach homes that need it.
Former President Bill Clinton and others called for more loan guarantees and federal spending on efficiency while speaking at the National Clean Energy Summit sponsored by Senate Majority Leader and Nevada Democrat Harry Reid.
The conference was a pitch session of sorts for new technologies from renewable energy and new technology chief executives, who often they could better deploy the products to help the environment if the government did not make it so hard and provided better incentives and support for buyers.
High-tech building supplies and window maker Serious Materials Chairman Marc Porat said his company is retrofitting homes with insulating panes that were five times more effective than traditional ones.
But it wasn't going fast in terms of replacing all the windows in the United States. "We are on a 10,000 year trajectory," he half-joked.
BrightSource Energy President and Chief Executive John Woolard said that he was "two and a half years into a one-year process" to get permission to build a California solar thermal plant, which would use heat from the sun to power a turbine.
"I'm here to tell you from the front lines, it is not an easy thing," he said, arguing that every project delay backed up the projects behind it. "If you look at the sense of scale, we are losing ground," he said.
Others agreed that the United States did not need new technology but a better effort at deploying what it has.
"The technology is there, scalability is the issue," said Senator Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington.
Federal legislation which would create a national "cap-and-trade" plan to allow power producers to trade carbon pollution credits was criticized for not going far enough.
"I would not be satisfied with an energy bill unless it had a strong component of transmission," Reid told the conference. His state, with empty, sunny, windy deserts and a small population, hopes to become a major energy exporter.
The legislation which passed the U.S. House does not give the federal government to create national rights of way for transmission lines, which currently can take decades to build. The Senate is considering such requirements.
American Wind Energy Association Chief Executive Denise Bode said the market was already moving ahead of targets for renewables in the federal bill.
"This legislation has to be strong, or the jobs won't be there," she said in an interview.
Clinton argued that the jobs and energy gains were focused in making buildings more energy efficient, like adding insulation. "The least sexy topic is where the new jobs are," he said in a speech, arguing that the federal government needed to step in to make sure loans were available to homeowners.