Granholm pitches ‘Race to Top’ grant program for states

Source: Nick Juliano, E&E reporter • Posted: Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who is said to be in the running to take over the Department of Energy if Steven Chu resigns, captivated a crowd of DOE staff and outside stakeholders with a pitch to promote clean energy deployment with a state-based competition modeled on the popular education program “Race to the Top.”

Granholm’s pitch came at DOE’s “All Stars” event Saturday afternoon that featured a series of presentations from energy experts modeled off TED talks.

Granholm (D) proposed establishing a $4.5 billion pot of money and allowing states to compete for the funds to boost clean energy manufacturing and deployment.

The proposal, she said, would address problems of job creation and climate change without requiring a heavy lift by Congress. Participation would be voluntary, but she predicted states would be eager to compete for the funds, noting that 48 states have opted into the Department of Education’s Race to the Top program, which distributes an equal amount of money in exchange for improvements to educational standards.

“We all talk about distributed generation of energy. I tend to think of using states to have the distributed generation of energy policy, throughout the country,” Granholm said. “You could see enormous change, if you allow the governors to be champions. The governors would love it.”

Granholm’s proposal envisions states committing to establishing their own clean energy standards, in line with President Obama’s previous proposal for a national requirement that 80 percent of electricity by 2035 come from wind, solar, nuclear, natural gas, or other low- or zero-emissions sources. It would also encourage states to analyze which clean industries are most likely to thrive in their states — for example, solar in the Southwest, wind in the Great Plains or manufacturing in the Rust Belt. States would be asked to promote those industries through regulatory reforms, such as easier permitting for clean power plants or public-private partnerships to spur new demand.

While the $4.5 billion would need to be appropriated by Congress, Granholm suggested getting a large philanthropic organization, such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to agree to contribute some of the money, to reduce the government’s burden. She suggested the money also could be raised through a one-time reduction of the corporate income tax rate that would spur companies to repatriate funds they currently have sitting offshore.

Granholm has pitched this idea in the past in columns for outlets such as the Huffington Post and Politico.

Her presentation Saturday received among the most enthusiastic reactions from the crowd assembled in a spacious cafeteria at DOE headquarters. Other presenters included Chu, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and former PBS children’s television star Bill Nye the Science Guy.

Chu has not announced his future plans, although his departure is widely expected to be imminent. Granholm has been among the candidates mentioned as a possible replacement at DOE, along with several other Cabinet posts that have been or are expected to be vacated.