Obama says renewable energy key to economic future

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday pushed for more investment in solar and wind energy, saying the country that can make renewable energy sources price-competitive with traditional fossil fuels will become the economic superpower of the future.

President Barack Obama takes part in a town hall meeting at Concord Community High School in Elkhart, Indiana, February 9, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young

Obama, speaking at a townhall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana, said renewable energy companies needed tax breaks and loan guarantees to provide incentives for firms to manufacture and customers to purchase solar and wind energy.

Obama acknowledged that while the cost of producing electricity by wind and solar has declined, it is still cheaper to generate power from plants fueled by coal or natural gas.

However, Obama said he wanted the government to invest every year in new technologies to drive down renewable energy costs over the long term.

“The country that figures out how to make cheaper energy that’s also clean, that country is going to win the economic competition of the future,” he said.

The roughly $800 billion stimulus package pending in Congress to revive the American economy includes billions of dollars in tax breaks and other financial incentives to boost the use of renewable energy.

They are intended to ensure solar and wind energy companies have steady business.

Obama called on Congress to require U.S. utilities to generate a certain amount of their electricity supplies, such as 15 to 20 percent, from renewable energy sources.

He said that, once such a benchmark is set, then renewable energy companies can “count on a pretty solid market that they’re going to be able to sell their energy to.”

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on Tuesday on draft legislation that would set a national renewable energy standard.

Under the bill, the amount of the U.S. electricity supply coming from renewable energy resources would gradually increase to 4 percent by 2012, 8 percent by 2015, 12 percent by 2018, 16 percent by 2020 and 20 percent by 2039.

Obama also pledged to double U.S. renewable energy production within the next three years.

Editing by Walter Bagley