CERAWeek: Energy cues from telecomm?

At a luncheon today, Rep. Markey (D-Mass) talked up his technology experience as a player in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to a Houston audience today, saying energy and environmental policy during President Obama’s administration will be shaped in much the same way the telecomm sector was a decade ago.
“In 1996 there was not one home with broadband. Then we passed the Telecommunications Act and created a Darwinian, paranoia-induced marketplace,” he said.
Suddenly cable and telephone companies along with new entrants, including Google, revolutionized communications not just in the U.S. but around the globe. Markey is predicting a similar policy-driven shake-up in the world of energy.
Americans were “unshackled” from big, black rotary phones tethered to wall jacks that dominated homes and offices for 50 years and the age of the Blackberry was ushered in “almost overnight,” Markey said. New regulations pushing the market-place in the direction of natural gas and renewables could similarly unshackle the U.S. from oil imports, he said.
“I see my job as setting the policies that … give companies two things they need — certainty and opportunity,” he said.
Markey’s goal with the Telecomm Act of 1996 was to make every company have to hire a chief technology officer to deal with the changes that were taking place. Today he wants to see the energy sector so revolutionized that every company will need a chief energy and environmental officer.
According to Markey, Beltway lawmakers want to pour money into energy research and development, but he also chastised the private sector for not spending enough.
“The energy sector doesn’t spend anywhere near what the pharmaceutical companies do, the semiconductor companies do, even what the automakers spend,” he said. “We have to change the incentives to induce a new set of entrepreneurial interests.”
In 1980, 10 percent of federal government research spending was dedicated to the field of energy. In 2008, only 2 percent of those government research dollars were earmarked for energy. Markey said he wants to see more government dollars channeled into energy research.