Interview With Congressman Honda

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SAN JOSE, California – The following transcript is of an interview with Congressman Mike Honda, who represents the 17th Congressional District of California – Silicon Valley. The interview explores his perspective on President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative and the Electrify Africa Act, both introduced by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs this summer.

Power Africa aims to attract more American investment into Africa’s energy sector. It would leverage private sector investments with over $9 billion in initial commitments to support the development of more than 10,000 megawatts of new electricity generation for at least 20 million of Africa’s households and businesses. Lack of access to affordable and reliable electricity prevents Africa’s economy from growing and stifles poverty alleviation. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 589 million people – 68 percent of the population – do not have access to electricity and roughly 30 African countries face endemic power shortages. According to the International Energy Agency, Sub-Saharan Africa will require more than $300 billion in investment to achieve universal electricity access by 2030.

Power Africa hinges on passage of the Electrify Africa Act of 2013. If passed, the Electrify Africa Act will strengthen the American government’s position to promote and facilitate the development of energy resources in Africa. This would include increasing in USAID partnerships with the private energy sector and calling on the Trade and Development Agency to broaden the private sector engagement, along with influencing the World Bank and the African Development Bank to invest more in electrifying Sub-Saharan Africa. This legislation would ensure that the United States employs a specific strategy to increase access to electricity – at no additional cost to U.S. taxpayers.

If you take a look at one city from Congressman Honda’s seven-city district, Fremont, you will see that over 30 clean energy companies are based there. The potential that Power Africa Initiative offers these American businesses and its employees are great.

The questions in this interview were presented to Honda via email, to which answers were given an immediate response. The Congressman is social media savvy and offers many ways to get in touch online – which is to be expected from someone whose home is the Silicon Valley.

Here is Congressman Honda:

1. This past June, the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition hosted a conference to launch its new campaign, “Innovations in Smart Power.” The conference culminated on the eve of President Obama’s trip to Africa with a bon voyage consensus about the need for increased American private sector investment in Africa. Congressman Honda, do you feel the same enthusiasm about Africa’s business potential – specifically for partnering with Silicon Valley renewable energy companies, like Deeya Energy and the 30 other clean energy companies based in Fremont, California?

“I do support increased American private sector investment in Africa, which I talked about with Ethiopian Americans in July. I think that it is important to do more than just provide aid, that we must encourage businesses to invest and work with local partners to create jobs locally and empower Africans by giving them the opportunity to make money and learn the skills they need to run businesses of their own.”

2. What conditions do you think are necessary for having successful businesses in Africa?

“Too often, people in the world’s poorest regions are held captive by their own energy needs and the dictators who run their countries and exploit their natural resources solely for their own financial gain, not to help the people of the nation. By investing in renewable energy technologies that take advantage of locally available resources, and training and employing local residents to install and operate these systems, we can create opportunities for growth and break the cycle of dependence on fossil fuels.”

3. Do you believe that President Obama’s Power Africa Initiative will serve a mutual interest for the people of Africa and for Silicon Valley businesses?

“The President’s Power Africa initiative helps put into place a framework for expanding the role of renewables in Africa, and it looks to provide opportunities for Silicon Valley innovators to benefit as well, because they need to know that there is a market for their products in order to move forward. The Power Africa initiative will help jump-start that market and demand.

We will need a combination of policies to make the transition to renewables worldwide; the U.S. needs to commit itself to increasing its use of renewables, which will help drive down the cost of technologies and make it easier for developing nations to afford them, thereby leapfrogging polluting fossil fuels and moving to the latest, most efficient approaches.”

4. China sees Africa’s enormous potential in the energy sector. They are currently the largest investor in African energy, directing nearly $2 billion to African energy projects and leveraging Chinese energy companies. In India, cheaper solar equipment from China is already dominating the energy market. How do you feel about China’s dominance in the African market?

“China has indeed taken the lead when it comes to the energy sector in Africa. The United States, based on its position and principles, has the opportunity to engage in a mutually beneficial way with Africa – we can expand U.S. investment in a way that creates demand for our products in Africa, but which also helps create domestic industries and jobs in African nations that will be able to grow on their own.”

– Maria Caluag

Sources: The White House, U.S.House Committee on Foreign Affairs, International Energy Agency, U.S. Environmental Protection, The Economist, USAID, The City of Fremont
Photo: College Board

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