The United States can't lead the world in the 21st century with its current energy policy, Vice President Joe Biden told alternative technology supporters Tuesday at a clean energy summit in Las Vegas.
The nation is already trailing China and Germany in green technology, Biden said. It will trade its dependence on foreign oil for a dependence on foreign clean energy technology if its leaders don't act to help fledging green researchers and businesses, he said.
"If we shrink from deciding whether we are going to lead in the area of alternative energy, renewable energy, then we will be making the biggest mistake that this nation has made in its history," Biden said during his keynote speech at the fourth-annual National Clean Energy Summit at the Aria hotel-casino.
Biden said the future will demand cities that produce all the energy they consume; battery-powered cars able to travel great distances and bacteria that converts sunlight directly into fuel, among other innovations.
"Innovation and energy will go on whether or not we join and no nation which expects to be a leader of other nations can fall behind," he said.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval and California Gov. Jerry Brown also addressed the Las Vegas conference, where union, business and government leaders discussed energy security and independence.
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has hosted the agenda-setting conference since 2008. He said Congress needs to extend tax incentives for renewable energy, noting that green technology is one of the few expanding industries in the down economy. Reid said he has not spoken with President Barack Obama in a week, but has urged Obama's staff to include green energy in the president's widely anticipated jobs speech next week.
Reid also announced that construction on the world's first hybrid geothermal and solar power plant is starting in northern Nevada. Enel Green Power North America's geothermal plant in Churchill County is adding a solar project. The expansion is Nevada's latest clean energy project, many of which have been partially funded by Washington.
"We can't lose sight of the big picture," Reid said. "The big picture is jobs."
A Republican spokesman countered that policies pushed by Democrats have failed to create green energy jobs as promised.
"The truth is, Barack Obama and Joe Biden have no cohesive energy plan to create jobs or control energy prices," said Ryan Mahoney, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee.
But Biden argued during his speech that the green industry needs both public and private contributions to succeed. To make his point, he singled out five technology companies receiving up to $6 million each from the Department of Energy that have since attracted more than $100 million in private investments. The firms in North Carolina, California and Colorado are developing advanced grid scale batteries or new approaches to biofuels or waste heat recovery.
"No previous generation has had that debate about whether or not we are going to lead the world because in the past it simply hasn't been a question," Biden said. "This isn't science fiction. This is within our grasp."
The cost of not investing in the country's technological future was a central theme of the conference.
Chu said oil prices will increase in future years while green energy will become cheaper. He stressed science education as a top priority.
"It's part of American heritage to make national investments during time of distress," he said.
Brown said the stalemate between Republicans and Democrats in Congress is hurting the economy. California and Nevada have the highest unemployment rates in the nation.
"What is needed is stimulus," Brown told The Associated Press. "Stimulus is money. If the consumer doesn't provide it then the federal government has to provide it."