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Business leaders: Make renewable energy cheaper

Aug 19, 2008 - Oskar Garcia -The Associated Press

LAS VEGAS - Representatives from corporate giants Google Inc. and General Electric Co. said Tuesday that transitioning the United States to renewable energy on a large scale would be possible - if renewable energy were cheaper.

Dan Reicher, director for climate change and energy initiatives at Google.org, told a group of politicians and energy experts meeting in Las Vegas that renewable energy options will remain "boutique" industries unless their costs are cut to make them competitive with coal and other widely used power sources.

The group met at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and said it hoped to develop a national energy agenda to take to the Democratic and Republican parties at their upcoming conventions.

"There's a whole set of factors that go into the ultimate cost of energy," Reicher said after announcing a new plan for Google to invest more than $10 million to develop "enhanced geothermal systems" technology to generate energy from rocks deep below the earth's surface.

Google's project replicates traditional geothermal systems deep below the Earth's surface by circulating water through hot rock and running the steam through a turbine that generates electricity.

Google said its goal was to produce one gigawatt of renewable energy capacity - enough to power a major city.

"These are all high capital costs projects," Reicher said.

One by one, speakers at the National Clean Energy Summit touted the benefits of various energy-related initiatives: How large-scale solar power could generate thousands of jobs, why wind power could lessen America's dependence on foreign oil. Extending tax credits, establishing caps on carbon emissions and modernizing the nation's electricity grid - ideas speakers said would be crucial to building a "green" economy.

A series of panels included presentations on job growth in the renewable energy industry, improving efficiency for businesses and government's role in encouraging a transition from fossil fuels, but they featured little in the way of back-and-forth discussion.

General Electric chief executive Jeff Immelt did not attend, but said in a video that the government and the business community need to move forward.

"The technology exists, the time is now," he said. "We need a call to action - not a call to go to another conference."

Former President Bill Clinton laid out a 10-point plan Monday that included expanded research for carbon dioxide storage and accelerating a shift toward plug-in hybrid electric cars.

Texas oil baron T. Boone Pickens also presented his plan to develop wind energy to generate 20 percent of the nation's electricity, then use natural gas to power cars until hydrogen or plug-in electric cars become widely available.

"I don't see many people from my party," said Pickens, a Republican. "I'm making new friends, and that's good."

Former Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin and Utah Gov. John Huntsman also addressed the group. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was scheduled to spek later in the day.

___ On the Net:

National Clean Energy Summit: http://www.cleanenergysummit.org/
Google.org Enhanced Geothermal Systems: http://www.google.org/egs/