Here are some bits and pieces from the Immelt keynote that didn’t fit into my other post:

Jeffrey Immelt, Kimberly Strassel and Alan Murray

GE CEO Jeff Immelt, center, flanked by Kimberly Strassel and Alan Murray of The Wall Street Journal.
Photos: Genesis Photos

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After Immelt’s session, I randomly overheard Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, say, "that’s as unplugged as I’ve ever seen Jeff!" This is the kind of conference where you randomly overhear world famous CEOs saying things.

The session was co-hosted by Alan Murray and Kimberly Strassel, he from the WSJ news pages, she from the editorial board. Murray introduced the session and seemed keen to make it very clear that the two, news and editorial, are separate. When she came out, he said, “Kim, stand to my right.” (Get it?) Then he said, “she’s church, I’m state.” Later, when Immelt warned Strassel about worshiping "false idols," Murray interjected, "she’s church, I’m state, no false idols on this side!"

Those familiar with the WSJ know that the news operation is top-notch while the editorial page is notoriously filled with doctrinaire right-wing hacks (like Strassel). While he was never less than convivial, it was revealing to see Murray make such a point of distancing himself and the news operation from Strassel and her ilk.

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In a sense, the conference itself is split along the same lines. There are people making news, running companies, doing cool stuff, and then there are right-wing ideologues from CEI, etc. My impression so far has been that the ideologues aren’t impressing anybody. I don’t think they really speak for conservatives.

Speaking of distancing himself from editorial, Murray said that the assembled crowd was the greatest assemblage of environmental knowledge and experience "since Al Gore dined alone." A nice grace note, I thought.

It’s clear that Immelt views clean coal and nuclear as the two big players in our energy future. He said he’ll sell anything — wind turbines, gas turbines, whatever — based on whatever energy policy ends up being. But over and over he returned to those two. In fact, he said current energy policy is a "special kind of hell," like going to the Super Bowl — clean coal vs. nuclear — and the players never take the field. He’s clearly frustrated that with all the talk, policymakers won’t actually do anything to make it easier to fund and cite coal and nuclear plants. He’s itching to sell that stuff.

He mentioned it casually, in passing, but Immelt supports free allocation of carbon permits under a cap-and-trade system. He said coal states need to be "protected." Clearly he’s been talking to Jim Rogers.

Strassel: Lomborg says we should invest in research rather than implement regulations. Immelt: if a regulatory price on carbon were off the table, then yeah, that would be the second best option. Zing.

Strassel: a carbon tax is more efficient. Immelt: no way I could get USCAP to sign off on "the t-word."

Strassel: why do you say it’s anti-technology to be worried about costs? Immelt: the cheapest thing we could do is burn wood for fuel. If you want anything else, you have to pay to develop it and get it to market.

At one point, Murray asked for a show of hands: who thought nuclear would be a big part of the energy future? Virtually every hand in the room went up. Immelt responded, "well, be depressed. Nothing’s happening. That’s fine, we’ll do gas and wind." Murray: "can gas and wind do it?" Immelt: pause … "I’m in favor of energy diversity." Hmm.

Immelt: in healthcare, 8% of revenue gets cycled back into R&D. In energy, it’s less than 2%. That’s a $50b difference. The Chinese are all over this and they’re going to kick our asses.

After Fred Smith from CEI did his rambling rant on how business leaders are "engineering their own demise," Immelt said: "For some weird, crazy, terrible, horrible reason, I’m going to sell $10b in wind turbines in 2008."

After another old, doddering guy’s rant about how 80% by 2050 is impossible, Immelt curtly responded: "You’re right. Let’s not do anything."

It’s not the most significant thing in the world, but it’s notable that Immelt took a dig at what used to be the core of GE’s business: lighting. Strassel was whinging that CFL regs would cause manufacturing to move overseas, since they make all the CFLs in China. Immelt said: I told my union, I’m not going to defend a 120-year-old technology. He said the lighting business is the worst in the country — hasn’t changed in ages. So much for "bring good things to light."

Several WSJ folks have made Spitzer jokes. They’re obviously delighting in his travails. Nothing like schadenfreude.

Immelt casually mentioned that GE made several million dollars by meeting Kyoto emission standards. Made money. But then everybody just kept right along talking as though carbon regs are going to cripple the economy. 2+2 much?

Immelt: my researchers tell me global warming is a technical fact, and caused by human beings. Will it be a horrible catastrophe? I don’t know. I’m not that smart. But I don’t have to be that smart — I’m making money by preparing.

Jebus, why can’t our policymakers adopt that same common sense?

Everything here reeks of money.

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