Two Conversations on Energy in America; and Everything Else
You may have missed this little note out of Wall Street last week but many of the renewable and alternative energy funds are doing very well. The New Alternatives fund is up nearly 37 percent the last 12 months and 20 percent so far this year. The Guinness Atkinson fund is up 17 percent and 27 percent while the Wilder Hill funds, which launched last fall, are each up about 11 percent this year. By comparison, reports CNN, the S&P 500 has climbed about 21 percent over the last 12 months and is up about 5 percent this year.
The surge in renewable funds is part of a much larger two-path conversation happening on energy in the United States. At the grassroots, and in the investment portfolios of folks with a little dough there’s a tremendously interesting discussion about what will replace fossil fuel in an era of climbing prices, escalating environmental contamination, and soaring temperatures. Over the weekend, for instance, 3,000 people and 120 clean energy vendors showed up at the second annual Michigan Energy Fair in Onekama, Michigan, which is about a driver and a three-wood long. From Vespa scoooters to hybrid vehicles of every make, to windmills and solar displays, off the grid, and non-toxic energy efficiency, to design and architecture and much more, the energy fair offered a fine exploration of what’s available for an ordinary Joe to get tuned up to the new cost and supply realities of the 21st century.
You may recall that Veep Cheney once called conservation “a personal virtue” that had no place in a national energy strategy. Like almost everything else out of the current administration, what nonsense. In fact conservation represents an authentic response to scarce oil and high prices, as well as to global climate change. In essence, many of the products for sale at the fair framed sipping rather than slurping as a virtue. The market and consumers will steadily move conservation and alternative means for generating energy to the top of the national priority, regardless of what political folk think. That was perfectly plain in Onekama.
The big question is whether the elected leaders at the state and national level will catch up. That is not at all assured. Just before the Michigan Energy Fair got started the U.S. Senate approved an energy bill that significantly raised fuel mileage standards in cars and light trucks for the first time since 1975. The lawmakers also approved subsidizing 36 billion gallons of ethanol production at 51 cents a gallon. There was no new incentive for renewable energy, no shift from fossil fuels to clean sources, and fortunately no spending to turn coal into fuel, which is what the Nazis did in World War Two.
How much of the Senate bill will stick? Probably not much. The Michigan House delegation is determined to blow up the mileage standards, saying it threatens the domestic vehicle manufacturing industry. The industry has been dying for 30 years, so you have to wonder about that one. The Japanese don’t mind the higher standard. They’ve already reached 35 miles per gallon in Europe. And don’t be surprised if the coal boys in the South, West, Midwest, and mid-Atlantic somehow convince taxpayers to shell out billions to turn black rock into liquid diesel-like fuel. It’s a grim world when the grassroots go one way and the elected state and federal officials go another. Something about that campaign finance reform we ought to take a look at.