Former FCC Chairman Reed Hundt’s Latest Act: Green Policy

PALM SPRINGS, CALIF. — Reed Hundt is widely known for being the first chairman of the Federal Communications Commission to lead a spectrum auction, setting the stage for the modern U.S. wireless industry. He’s also known in geekier circles for his entrepreneurial endeavors like co-founding Frontline Wireless, a company that once had a plan to bid on freed up spectrum from analog TVs, and co-founding communications company Sigma Networks during the height of the optical networking bubble. Now the former attorney, who boasts Al Gore and Bill Clinton as childhood friends, is having a go at his third act: green policy advocate.

At the Cleantech Investor Summit in Palm Springs on Wednesday Hundt called for the creation of a U.S. green bank that would provide low cost loan guarantees and other financing tools for clean energy and energy efficiency projects. Regulation, like an energy bill, that raises the price of carbon looks like it’ll be many years down the road, and in the meantime greentech entrepreneurs need debt financing mechanisms to help deliver breakthrough innovation, said Hundt. “Is it a panacea?” asked Hundt. “It’s pretty close, and out of the question it’s essential.”

Hundt is the Chairman of The Coalition for The Green Bank, a group of dozens of clean power companies that are together advocating for a green bank program. Hundt is a volunteer and membership to the coalition is free and open to anyone, says the group on its web site. Many others, like the Center for American Progress, are also calling for the implementation of a green bank.

As the former FCC Chairman and a former broadband entrepreneur Hundt has an interesting perspective on the similarities and differences between the former dot com boom and greentech growth. Unlike in the case of rapid growth in demand for mobility and the web, there won’t be a massive boom in demand for energy in the U.S., said Hundt — no one is racing to be able to leave the lights on longer. “Efficiency is the enemy of capacity growth. We have a fundamental demand problem here,” he said.

However, that’s where China could have an advantage. The country can add all new capacity (compared to replacement in the U.S.) and meet the new energy demand with clean power.

On the other hand the buildout of clean power projects should look like the history of the Internet, in terms of starting out by laying down the early basic infrastructure and building the next generation technology on top of it. The Internet “wasn’t just created in a lab and then thrown over the wall. It was a period of rapid generations of replacing the technology that came before it,” sad Hundt. We’re on the verge of creating that virtuous cycle for clean power, he said.

Hundt finished his talk by putting the benefits of a green bank straight for the audience. “It won’t be a disaster. It might not be as good as I say. Let’s just have a crack at it and see. We need to reset our vision.” Not exactly the most persuasive argument for a former lawyer, but I saw plenty of head nods during the conclusion in the audience. Well, he was preaching to the choir.

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