Published November 11, 2008 08:49 AM

Obama likely to boost alternative energy

Barack Obama's election has members of the alternative energy world sounding positively giddy, an enthusiasm not shared by their competitors in the oil industry.

Obama's energy plans read like a wish list for the companies that make solar cells, wind turbines or alternative fuels.


He wants to pump money into energy research and force all electric utilities to use renewable power. He has proposed creating a cap-and-trade system that would put a price on the greenhouse gas emissions that come from burning fossil fuels.

"This is a gift," said Lyndon Rive, president of SolarCity, a Foster City company that designs, installs and operates solar power systems. "We could not ask for a president who's more focused on energy independence and renewable power."

Oil executives, on the other hand, are feeling far more cautious.

They're not sure what to expect. Some wonder if Obama will reinstate the federal ban on offshore drilling that ended this fall. During the campaign, he expressed support for oil drilling in America's coastal waters, but it was tepid at best. And Obama has called for a windfall-profits tax on oil companies. Even though oil and gasoline prices are tumbling, he may follow through.

"It's clear that with the budget situation, they're going to be looking for money from somewhere, and there's been a lot of talk about taxing the industry," said John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute. "We tried that under (President) Jimmy Carter, and it didn't work."

Few people expect energy to be the first issue Obama tackles when he takes office in January. The financial crisis will almost certainly command most of his attention.

The economy's meltdown has hurt alternative energy companies by cutting off their access to capital. But many entrepreneurs in the field still see the crisis as an opportunity, for the new president and for them. Obama, they say, should use his energy proposals as tools to stimulate the economy and create jobs. Someone needs to build America's wind farms, solar arrays and biofuel plants, and those jobs can't be shipped overseas.

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