cap-and-trade-planeExecutives at major cleantech companies say that carbon trading legislation — namely the Kerry-Boxer climate bill pending in the U.S. Senate — would eventually infuse the country’s economy, even though the chief argument against it is that it would hike energy prices and damage the rebounding economy (see cartoon). That said, they are dubious that such a bill will pass anytime soon. Both these findings came out of a survey of industry leaders conducted by top-tier law firm Cooley Godward Kronish at its recent Clean Technology Conference.

The most salient data points from the report include:

  • 71 percent of respondents said a cap-and-trade system would effectively decrease U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
  • 80 percent said the legislation would ultimately strengthen the economy.
  • 45 percent predicted that the carbon trading bill currently on the table will not pass until the second half of 2010.
  • 30 percent said the legislation will not pass anytime during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Looking at these numbers, it might seem like the cleantech industry has lost faith in itself as a national priority. And, indeed, the future does seem a tad bleak for the Kerry-Boxer climate bill. Overshadowed by the health care reform debate, the legislation — which aims to combat climate change, not solely establish cap-and-trade — has stalled in the Senate. Watchdogs don’t believe it will make it out of committee until the end of this year, and won’t come up for a vote until next spring.

But one of the survey’s results sheds a little light on the situation: 85 percent of the cleantech execs interviewed said they didn’t think the institution of cap-and-trade would in any way damage or hamper their business growth. Instead, they identified raising capital (56 percent) and advantage of the right government policies (32 percent) as the two biggest factors impacting their success. Only 26 percent of those surveyed counted passing the cap-and-trade legislation as a major challenge.

The cleantech sectors positioned to benefit most from a carbon-trading law include carbon accounting system makers like Hara and Carbonetworks, Smart Grid component producers like smart meter makers Landis+Gyr and Itron, and of course solar, wind and geothermal producers. All of these operations would get a boost because they either keep tabs on carbon totals or reduce them. But Smart Grid companies are already getting a leg up from federal stimulus funds and new legislation; and solar, wind and other renewable sources are already being buttressed by state mandates and incentives.

Instead of worrying that cap-and-trade measures won’t pass, many are concerned that its presence in the bill will kill it — hanging its more popular stipulations, including Smart Grid and renewable energy timetables, out to dry. But if industry sentiment is any indication, we probably won’t find out for a while.

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[Cartoon from Breakdownofamerica.com]