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Keynote Address: Alliance to Save Energy Fall Conference

Location: Washington, DC

Thank you, Tom, thank you so much for the introduction and congratulations on being chosen to serve as the next co-chair of the Alliance. I had an opportunity to visit with a couple dozen folks from the Alliance to Save Energy back in March, at a time when I needed some encouragement and so frankly, I came out of that conversation in that room with a sense of width that I don't always get day in and day out here in the Senate as I sit through hearings and as we debate, or don't debate, on the Floor. And to Peter Darbee of PGE (Pacific Gas and Electric Company), I just want to say congratulations and thanks for your term of service, the outgoing or co-chair. It is good to be back here.

Energy efficiency is a generally important issue to me and I think you have a vital in, and I strongly support the work you are doing to achieve a healthier, cleaner, stronger economy. In fact, it seems to me that it is not the next big thing; it has always been a big thing. It strikes me as surprising that it is something we even need to debate. And yet here, these days, in the modern stay, things that might seem to us more interested in science-based public policy, interested in getting people back to work, interested in strengthening America's independence--apparently some of us need to be reminded of the central role, the huge importance of value of energy efficiency as one of the smartest, strongest ways that we can see progress in the country.

It has long enjoyed bipartisan support. As I presided last week, I heard some stirring speeches from Senators, both Republican and Democrat from Illinois, giving tribute to Senator Charles Percy; someone who I did not know personally, but who was present at the very founding of this organization thirty-four years ago. Charles Percy and Hubert Humphrey were able to come together, Republican and Democrat, as centrist, responsible, thoughtful folks from the heartland who found a way to work together at the beginning of the Alliance to Save Energy. These days, I will just say, sadly, it seems that petty partisanship has seeped into every corner, into every crack, into every hole of the thoughts and the deliberation of us here in the Senate. And I think petty partisanship has had an unfortunate and corrosive effect on our ability to make progress on what has long struck me and I know what finally struck those two great Senators, a common sense collaborative initiative to strengthen our nation and our economy. And I come from a place, the great little state of Delaware, where bipartisanship and where responsible collaboration between industry and environmentalists, a real and meaningful dialogue between regulators and regulated industries, is just part of the background. At our annual Chamber of Commerce Dinner, the President of AFL-CIO gives the invitations. We have a state culture that favors and encourages innovation, entrepreneurship, investment, and stewardship; and to me, if those are four pillars of your common values, energy efficiency runs right through the center all four of them.

As you heard in that great introduction, I come to an interest in energy efficiency from an undergraduate training in chemistry to eight years working for WL Gore and Associates, the makers of Gortex, a materials-based science company, that had a significant play at the time in fuel cells and where I was doing some of our government affairs and community outreach work as well as a lot of commercial and transactional work. Our then Governor, Ruth Ann Minner, appointed me to the Governor's Energy Taskforce, something that struck me merely, at the time, as a painful distraction from the demands three young children and a full-time job. But having heard that I was involved in unwinding an ESCO contract of an energy services and one of my first challenges had been unwinding the trail of a longstanding ESCO contract where there hadn't been enough engineering involved in the actual annual implementation, which is sort of an understandable challenge if you have an ESCO and you let it go too long and you don't finish the details, they talked about one time too many, and so the Governor decided I was somehow an expert, a thing that happens here in the Senate as well, you give one thought and you're immediately blazing the trail. So she not only put me on her Energy Taskforce, she made me the chair of the Conservation and Efficiency Work Group. This allowed me over forty meetings over the next two years to thoroughly and deeply geek out and yet, get credit for it at my employer and to get better grounded in and better informed in the dynamics of energy, exploration, production, and distribution and to understand how this fifth pupil, how this alternative way of looking at energy savings can fundamentally alter not just the built space, not just our commercial or industrial balance sheet for energy, but our future as a nation-- environmentally and in terms of job creation.

That work translated for me into a leadership role I took on as County Executive of a county serving half a million people. We are in a very fiscally constrained environment where we also had a Headquarters building that was built during the years of "energy doesn't matter" and so it had enormous windows and very little insulation and very poor energy management systems, it desperately needed capitol rehab, and the only way we were able to finance it was through an ESCO, which required changing state law because procurement systems and contracts had not caught up with the twentieth century even before the twentieth century ended. That work, plus implementing the EECBG (Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant) Program, a privy to a year stimulus, gave me an insight in that how the government sector would handle this, thus concluded that the government section can do a better job of implementing energy efficiency programs and help more effectively financing and paying for those investments.

It is easy, here in the Senate, to believe that I can take that private sector experience, that local government experience, and just sort of, leap forward to contributing to a conversation about our energy future. Sadly the Energy Committee, although lead by two great Senators who work responsibility and thoughtfully together between Bingaman and Murkowski of New Mexico and Alaska, has some divisions within it that slowed down our progress on some of the more ambitious bills that have stood before us like the SEDA bill (Sustainable Energy and Development Bill)that I think is critical to financing energy infrastructure. The question I keep asking other members of the Committee when I have a chance to sit, either in privacy or when I get the chance to talk to staff is, "What is it that we are fighting over between those who seem to champion, more traditional, oil or gas or curling expiration and those who seem to champion a clean energy alternative for an alternative energy future?"

In both cases, I think what we're addressing is the symptom not the fuse. Energy Efficiency should be the one thing that allows us to bridge all of these competing interests and concerns because it promotes energy independence, it promotes energy efficiency, and thus, produces or impacts our environment and it promotes American employment. An America that uses less energy because it is an America that takes less from the earth. An America that is less reliant on other nations for the fuel that we spend so much for, day in and day out. An America where its people don't need to worry about their future in order to cool their homes. An America that uses less energy and will also spend less time, ever again, waiting in long gas lines, sweating through mid-summer brownouts, or having to make the choice between feeding families and keeping warm in difficult winters, in tough economic times.

I haven't been around here very long, thankfully, just less then a year, but I am already seeing how in tough economic times the conversation can and should change. In my view, the arguments for energy efficiency work equally well, in great economic times and difficult economic times, because when we're tightening our belts nothing can help our bottom line as company, accounting, and a country then energy efficiency. In my view, energy efficiency is all about American's future and we need to recapture that solid bipartisan sense of its role in our future that Alliance to Save Energy is trying to do. Energy efficiency is not about who's right or who's wrong, it is not about whether climate change is real or not, it is not about who's science you are going to choose to believe today, it is not even about benefiting shareholders or appeasing some particular wonk, it is something that, in my view, fundamentally makes sense. There is no "we" word in the fight for energy efficiency except to the sense that we all win.

So for the four questions, I think, for those of us that serve on the Energy Committee are: how do we do it? How do we continue to make some progress when cost efficiency seems to be ruling the day? As you've heard in the introduction, I am a co-sponsor-- I have co-sponsor three different bills-- that I think can and should command the majority of our Committee. I am dedicating time, energy, and resources to advocate for them for the Members of the Committee, for the Chair, and the Leadership. One of the problems with Washington is that once there is an assumption made, that certain bills will never see the Floor, and will never make it to the Senate and the House, and will never make it to the President's desk, then the energy needed to move them stops being invested. If I can, I would like to offer myself as a catalyst, as someone who tries not to fuel that movement but to catalyze. The three bills that were mentioned previously: the "Consensus Appliance Agreements Act" which is named the Rutkowski Act, more than any other, obviously deserves consideration and move a consensus filled negotiation between industry and advocates; the "Reducing Federal Energy Dollars Act" from my senior Senator, Tom Caper, how could I not support a home state favor like that; and the "Energy Savings and Industrial Competitive Act," known to most of us as Shaheen-Portman. I have greatly enjoyed serving with Sen. Shaheen; she has brought a Governor's sense of bottom-line accountability and focus and a New Englander's concern about energy efficiency in staying warm in increasing cold winters. These are things we should be moving in the short run.

But I am also concerned about fighting for saving the Research and Development Funding for The Department of Energy. The Department of Energy has played a critical role in partnering with the private sector, the State, and energy offices, to make possible the research and development that has fueled some of the critical advances in energy efficiency. I'm also greatly concerned about tax credit. There is a lot of concern in the media about loan guarantees and I am concerned that broadly we may be taking our eye off a full spirit of expiring tax credit, that provide a critical groundwork that allows for the financing, investment, and advancement of clean energy and energy efficiency technologies. I am also someone who is particularly interested in budget rules having had to balance six budgets as County Executive and seeing the pernicious effect of the budget rules we adopted on some of the decisions we made--I am stunned that how complex and how irrational whole squat of federal budget making them a scoring profit is, so particularly around ESCOs and how purchase agreements as they apply to federal entities I have been working with the Chairman and hope to make some responsible progress with the budget scoring rules that I think are a needless barrier to our making real progress as a deal.

Last, I have been trying to hold up, and advocate for, and champion innovation in how the current spark of energies operate: REE, The Energy Innovation Hub, which has a particular group that I am excited about The Energy Efficiency and Building Systems group, and frankly I also think we need to continue the fight for clean energy standards. Even if it seems right now difficult to get the new fuel economy and clean energy standards advanced by the Administration but I think that is a fight worth having. In case it's not clear to you, I am someone who stands before you who thinking energy efficiency is not the next big thing; it is a big thing right now.

Much like that, like my experience on the Energy Committee, which is endlessly tantalizing to me because of the value and the impact of the underlying content. Yes it demands that current role suggests I have to go back, hearing debates on a whole range of things that are not as obvious, common senses, or powerful as energy efficiency.

Every time I hire someone new that comes and joins my office either before as County Executive or here, and they tend to be in their early twenties, I tend to ask them a simple question, "When did you first learn about the power of compounding interests and the consequences for your pension and retirement?" and they look blankly disturbed, they often wonder if it too late to take a different offer with different office. Do you remember? I was thirty when I first got a pension calculation presentation and it occurred to me that I should've been saving when I was twenty, because the power of compounding interest is so huge over a longer period of time that the earlier you start those savings the more profound its movement in your long term economic future. Energy efficiency has exactly the same power. It has enormous potential that can change our future, our competitors, our environmental footprint, our technology, and our children and grandchildren's country that they will inherit from us. I cannot say thank you more strongly and clearly then that.

I still remember, when serving on the Governor's Energy Taskforce, when I first went, "Ohhh, energy efficiency is the most important thing we could be working on in energy." And I am grateful for your efforts in helping the rest of the nation to have that powerful "Ah-ha" moment. Please, lets not stop fighting to also make this a powerful, successful, bipartisan one.

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