Following Mulally (that’s fun to say … following Mulally following Mulally whee!) last night was Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. Good lord what a contrast!
Most of what Schmidt had to say was about Clean Energy 2030, Google’s big renewable energy plan. I won’t go over that again. Suffice to say it’s great.
WSJ’s Alan Murray started off by asking Schmidt what he would say to a shareholder who didn’t approve of Schmidt’s focus on renewable energy and do-goody environmental stuff. Said Schmidt:
Money we save on energy goes straight to the bottom line. Lower costs mean higher earnings. Green energy done right is more profitable than old energy. Is that a crisp enough answer for you?
Yes. (More on Schmidt’s remarks on the WSJ energy blog.)
One of my favorite things about Schmidt is that he clearly understands, as so few people in the climate/energy discussion do, that one of the central barriers to renewables and efficiency is dumbass utility regulations. People tend to recoil from the subject — so boring! so technical! — but nonetheless, it’s the elephant in the room.
And it prompted one of the more interesting exchanges in the audience Q&A.
First, Michael Morris, CEO of American Electric Power (a Southeastern utility), stood up and and showed that fossils can walk and talk. In so many words, he said building retrofits are a myth, renewables are far away, and decoupling (so utilities can make money from efficiency) is bogus. Specifically, “I’m not a decoupler. If my revenues go down, they go down.” (Yes, I’m sure AEP and the utility regulators it’s in bed with will stand by idly and watch its revenue go down.)
Then Peter Darbee, CEO of PG&E (a California utility) stood up and showed what it looks like to live in the 21st century. He said he’s made tons of money off decoupling. He said PG&E’s found it easier to reach their renewable targets than anyone thought. He said ambitious targets always sound “impossible” when they’re first proposed and American innovation always hits them.
Schmidt and Darbee come out of the forward-looking, ambitious, innovative culture of California tech. They both seem frankly astonished at the lack of ambition, the fear, the smallness of thinking — not only of some of the business folk, but of the media too. Eventually Schmidt burst out: “This is America! We can do this!”