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Obama energy goal hard to meet: energy secretary

By Tom Doggett
/ Source: Reuters

By Tom Doggett

President-elect Barack Obama will have a hard time significantly increasing America's alternative energy production, outgoing U.S. Energy Secretary Sam Bodman said on Wednesday.

As part of his economic stimulus plan, Obama wants to double output of alternative energy over the next three years.

"I think it's going to be extremely difficult to get there in three years," Bodman said in a final briefing with reporters before he leaves office next week.

Renewable energy sources, which include solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, biofuels and other biomass, accounted for 7 percent of U.S. energy supplies in 2007, according to the Energy Department.

Bodman said boosting solar energy "would be easier" because there are more companies that make solar panels, while increasing wind power will be more challenging because of tight manufacturing capacity to build wind turbines.

"I'm not saying you can't do it," Bodman said of Obama's goal. "It depends on how much money you spend. We have spent a lot of money, but could you spend even more and can you throw more (government) money at it? You could. I don't think it's wise myself, because I think we're spending about at the rate which makes sense."

Steven Chu, Obama's pick to be the next energy secretary, told a Senate committee on Tuesday he was committed to developing more wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources.

Officials with the trade groups of the solar and wind industries said on Wednesday their members could meet Obama's goal.

They said to double solar and wind energy production Congress should use the economic stimulus package, which may have a $25 billion energy component, to modify existing energy tax credits so they are refundable to companies that are not making a profit in these hard economic times.

"We need to come up with an innovative approach," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association.