Government Sends Mixed Messages Regarding Cleantech Agenda

With the Gulf oil spill crisis growing by the day, the quest for alternative energy sources is front and center in policy debates and the news, but it is unclear whether the United States government is ready to fully embrace clean technology.

Obama SpeakingPresident Barack Obama spent time addressing the United States’ energy future in his remarks at Carnegie Mellon University earlier this week. President Obama pointed to the tax credits and loan guarantees provided for under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as evidence of the United States’ efforts to promote the clean technology sector.

Another sign that the government is embracing a cleantech agenda came late last month when the United States Patent Office (USPTO) announced that it would expand its Green Technology Pilot Program to increase the categories of technology that are eligible for expedited processing under the program.

The program was announced in December of 2009 to promote the development of green technologies, but was previously limited to a smaller number of U.S. classifications. The USPTO has now lifted that requirement.

Although the economic incentives in the Recovery Act and the USPTO’s fast-track program are signs that the US government is on board with clean energy, the President acknowledged that the private sector needs to buy in to help fund the development of these new technologies.

Interestingly, the recent financial regulatory reform bill passed by the Senate on May 20, 2010 may actually make it harder for angel investors and venture capital firms to fund the cleantech businesses that the government is trying to promote. The Senate bill contains provisions relating to the regulation of hedge funds as well changes to the “accredited investor” provisions of the Securities Act of 1933 that may impact the pool of investors eligible to support cleantech companies.

Finally, the energy bill introduced by Democratic Senator John Kerry and independent Senator Joe Lieberman which includes provisions relating to alternative energy sources and incentives for clean technology appears to be bogged down in the Senate with no sign of passage in the near future.

Despite these mixed messages, it is clear that cleantech is here to stay and as public support grows for alternative energy more consistent legislation will likely follow suit.