Obama Praises Renewable Energy at MIT

President Barack Obama called for increased use of renewable energy and levied criticisms against opponents of the energy and climate bill now making its way through Congress during a speech at MIT on Friday.

Addressing a crowd of MIT students, faculty, and local supporters of clean energy programs, Obama lauded MIT’s Energy Initiative launched Sept. 2006 to advance energy-related research, education, and outreach activities at the school.

Obama challenged lawmakers to pass comprehensive clean energy legislation and touted the benefits of the current cap-and-trade proposal that he said would make the “best use of resources we have in abundance,” including biofuels and wind and solar energy.

“There’s no silver bullet to do it” Obama said, acknowledging that the question of how the United States will transition from fossil fuels to renewable fuels remains unanswered. “But there’s no question that we must do all these things.”

Earlier that morning, MIT President Susan Hockfield gave Obama a tour of MIT research laboratories, pointing out advances in energy research and technology, including generating electricity by directing light to solar cells in windows and engineering viruses to create high-power batteries.

Citing examples of energy research he saw at MIT, Obama called on young people to undertake “the challenge of their generation” at a time when critics of the proposed energy and climate legislation attempt to block its passage.

“The closer we get, the harder the opposition will fight and the more we’ll hear from those whose interest or ideology run counter to the much needed action that we’re engaged in,” Obama said.

But pessimism—“that our politics are too broken and our people too unwilling to make hard choices,” Obama said—would be far more detrimental to the nation’s progress in using clean energy.

Obama also praised Mass. Gov. Deval L. Patrick ’78 for his efforts to push through clean energy initiatives, pointing to the new Wind Technology Testing Center in Boston funded by a $25 million investment from the American Recovery and Reinvestment passed in January.

Harvard has also scaled up clean energy projects in order to meet its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below 2006 levels by 2016. This September, Harvard Real Estate services installed two forty-foot wind turbines on the Soldier’s Field Parking Garage that will provide up to 10 percent of the garage’s annual energy needs, said Joe A. Gregory, assistant director of sustainability for HRES. To further cut emissions, Harvard has undertaken the installation of the largest institutional solar array, a 250-yard solar complex atop a University-owned building in Watertown that will generate over seven percent of the complex’s annual energy.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will begin hearings on Tuesday on the climate change and energy bill introduced last month by Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass), who arrived in Boston with the President aboard Air Force One, and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif).

—Staff writer Natasha S. Whitney can be reached at nwhitney@fas.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer June Q. Wu can be reached at junewu@fas.harvard.edu.

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