Jerry Brown on Solyndra, China, High Speed Rail and “Imagination and Rigor”

Last week, at the close of the Wall Street Journal ECO:nomics conference in Santa Barbara, California’s Governor Jerry Brown talked with CEO’s and industry leaders about his work to build a health, clean energy economy in California. Here are some highlights:

Wall Street Journal: In 1977, California introduced solar tax incentives. How has your view on energy policy evolved?

Governor Brown: California has always been a leader in environmental legislation and we’d like to continue that tradition.

In 1977, California has a budget surplus. We did not have to consider the costs of those incentives. The incentives were “free virtue.” We had a 55% credit that was mostly heating related, and a 25% credit for conservation improvements. We garnered billions in energy savings, set the pace for the nation, and a foundation for renewable energy.

Now it’s different because we are working with a huge deficit. But one thing that has lasted well has been a focus on building efficiency. We also have a law that one third of our electricity must come from renewable sources. We need to balance how we achieve that goal in a way that is environmentally and economically sound.

The point is to think big and to think long-term. We can’t get there overnight.

Wall Street Journal: What do you think about Solyndra?

Governor Brown: We have to try things. Sometimes you fail. We have to use failure to learn. The Solyndra failure is our benefit. The Solyndra failure is not nearly as bad as the mortgage breakdown.

Wall Street Journal: What are your thoughts about U.S. – China relations?

Governor Brown: We want a positive U.S. – China relationship. Here in California we want to prosper with China regardless of what they do in Washington.

Wall Street Journal: What is your intended legacy for your second term?

Governor Brown: I don’t think about legacy. I think about things I like to get done.
In the 20th century, I was the youngest governor in the country. In the 21st century, I’m the oldest. But, I’m not done yet. We have a lot of ideas we are working on.

We need a water plan to ensure an ongoing supply of water.

We are working on a high-speed rail to better our transportation and relieve gridlock.

We’re reworking our pension and our tax plan.

We’re enlisting the help of a lot of great minds. We recently had Amory Lovins and Herman Kahn work with us on thinking about the future. We want to make the state more aggressive and effective.

Wall Street Journal: California recently announced Juan Felipe Herrera as its Poet Laureate. In one of his poems, he speaks to the value of imagination and attaining “a life without boundaries.”

Governor Brown: Imagination with no boundaries brings lunacy. What we need is rigor. It’s all about rigor woven with imagination that gets things done. We need to respect imagination and boundaries.

Heather King

Heather is President of kingconsulting, a leading strategy consulting practice focused on sustainability, clean tech, and green tech. Heather has over 30 years experience working with pioneering technology, consumer, B2B companies and international non-profits - including Apple, Microsoft, Disney. Oracle, Ogilvy, Waste Management, Stanford Center for Social Innovation, Day in the Life, and multiple start ups. She serves on the boards of Trust for Conservation Innovation, a fiscal sponsor and incubator for over two dozen environmental non-profits, and the Presidio Graduate School, the leading MBA/MPA program focused on sustainability.