GE earns $100 billion on clean energy; GOP pretends it doesn’t exist

  • Published on March 14th, 2012

ecoimaginationUnfortunately, the energy talk on the GOP campaign trail remains dominated by climate denial.  Rick Santorum, the winner of the latest two GOP primaries, wrote an op-ed over the weekend in which he called climate change “a pseudo-science” and “a liberal orthodoxy.”

Mitt Romney said last week that he had once been a “radical” on energy issues because he supported measures to cut carbon pollution. Now, he assured voters, “we don’t know what’s causing climate change on this planet.”

Some in the radical wing of the Republican Party lap up comments like these, but luckily, executives in corporate American haven’t been listening. Instead, the smart ones have been making money and creating jobs based on real solutions to climate change.

General Electric (GE), for instance, was in the news this week after it released its 2011 Annual Report.  GE has spent several years positioning itself as an innovator in low-carbon technologies. Now the sustainable arm of the company — called ecoimagination — has generated $100 billion in revenues and is growing at more than twice the rate of the rest of the company, according to Mark Vachon, the vice president of eco-imagination.

Let’s be clear: GE isn’t squeaky clean. It is completely or partially liable for at least 78 federal Superfund sites. NRDC had to sue it for years just to make it start cleaning up PCBs from the Hudson River.

GE didn’t invest in climate solutions because it is home to a bunch of treehuggers. They did it because it is good for business. Vachon ecoimaginationsaid GE’s sustainable strategy means “we’re viewed as relevant in the world.” What does that make the climate denying politicians? Trouble is America and American workers could become irrelevant too if one of these candidates wins the White House and creates a national policy of climate denial and fossil fuel dependence.

Our country could miss the boat. Global investments in clean energy reached a record $243 billion last year. Solar photovoltaic systems alone have a global market worth of more than $80 billion. Clean energy investments are forecast to grow by hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades.

“Is the US electorate willing to allow the competitive edge on technology to go to China or to Europe, or would they prefer to be the leaders of technology? That is a question that they need to answer,” Christiana Figueres, the official who leads the UN secretariat in charge of global climate negotiations, said at a news conference last Friday.

Not one of the GOP candidates has been talking about the power of clean energy to create jobs and give American companies a competitive advantage. Yet the Solar Energy Industries Association just reported that U.S. solar panel installation surged 109 percent over the past year and the average cost of the panels has dropped 50 percent. Meanwhile, 35 percent of all new power built in the U.S. in the last four years has come from wind energy. This new wind power will provide as much power as nine nuclear power plants.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt said the company has made a “boatload of money” in the wind business. He thinks wind and solar power will play a major role in America’s energy future. He also recognizes that oil and gas will be around for awhile too, so he is also expanding GE’s investment in those fuels as well. His approach sounds an awful lot like what some call an “all of the above” approach to energy development. Except Immelt includes clean energy in his plan, while some lawmakers either ignore it or disparage it.

This kind of negative political pandering has serious consequences. “I worry that the mood of the times prevents us from moving forward,” Immelt said recently.

While GOP candidates are boasting about their climate denial, other nations are nurturing their clean energy sectors. In 30 years, will we be selling clean technologies to those countries or will we be buying it from them? I’d put my money on the CEO who can envision a clean energy future instead of the candidates who have their heads stuck in the sand.

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(Originally appeared at The Markup, the blog of the NRDC Action Fund.)

About the Author

Heather Taylor-Miesle is the Director of the NRDC Action Fund. With more than 13 years of experience in federal politics as a public interest lobbyist, political consultant and on Capitol Hill, she has expertise in federal energy, environmental health, and appropriations issues. Prior to becoming director of the NRDC Action Fund, Ms. Taylor-Miesle was the associate legislative director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the world’s premier environmental organizations. Prior to her position at the NRDC, Ms. Taylor-Miesle worked on Capitol Hill, first as an aide to now Governor Ted Strickland (D-OH) and then as a senior staff member for current Labor Secretary, Hilda Solis (D-CA). Follow Heather and NRDC's Action Fund on Facebook (