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Obama's State of the Union and what it means for clean energy

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If semantics are any indication of priority, in his speech last night the President mentioned "clean energy" ten times, while variations on the word "terror" (terrorists and bioterrorism) were only mentioned three.

There is always strong opinions either way when it comes to the analysis of any big political moment in history, and there's no end of speculation today about what Obama's speech means, but I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that President Obama's State of the Union address is great news for the US clean energy sector.

As I mentioned in my pre-SOTU article yesterday, the Obama administration's emphasis on green jobs and clean energy in the Recovery Act program has been paying off so far. In the last week alone we have seen new factories announced for fuel-efficient and electric cars in regions desperate for new jobs and an economic shot in the arm, as well as positive numbers for domestic wind energy production.

The President's speech last night showed strong indications that his commitment to boosting the clean energy sector remains unchanged. Obama announced that he will seek a second job stimulus package from Congress, and there's no reason to doubt that this second package will also put an emphasis on investing in the clean energy sector.

This is especially true given how often the President referred to clean energy throughout his speech, here's the references:

"Because of the steps we took, there are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed. Two hundred thousand work in construction and clean energy; 300,000 are teachers and other education workers."

"There's no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains, or the new factories that manufacture clean energy products."

"We should put more Americans to work building clean energy facilities and give rebates to Americans who make their homes more energy-efficient, which supports clean energy jobs."

"They're making serious investments in clean energy because they want those jobs. Well, I do not accept second place for the United States of America."

"You can see the results of last year's investments in clean energy -- in the North Carolina company that will create 1,200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put a thousand people to work making solar panels."

"But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives."

"And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America."

"But here's the thing -- even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -- because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy."

With any big political moment there also comes a lot of cynicism, and so what the President's commitment to clean energy will look like in the coming years remains unclear. There was a justifiably strong negative reaction (including from yours truly) to what Obama had to say about so-called "clean" coal and new investments in nuclear power for instance. But we'll see. This is a President still trying to find his groove in a town that normally doesn't take to kindly to strangers.