After China Deal, Clean Tech Firm Gets White House Invite

CEO of solar start-up invited to White House after deal with Chinese firm.

June 29, 2010, 11:24 AM

June 29, 2010 — -- For New Jersey entrepreneur Chuck Provini, it took a trip to halfway around the world to finally get the attention he wanted here at home.

After striking a deal just two weeks ago to partner with a Chinese company to help develop his solar energy start-up, the former Marine and CEO of Natcore Technology in Red Bank, N.J., he said he's now attracting interest from the highest reaches of the U.S. government -- the White House.

Provini said he spent about a year trying to get his solar company off the ground in the United States, pitching technology that makes solar panels cheaper, more efficient and less toxic to the environment. He went to Washington, D.C., to meet with lawyers, lobbyists and congressional staffers, with very little progress.

But while bureaucracy and red tape stalled talks with state and federal officials, conversations with Chinese officials shot ahead. Not only did the Chinese reach out to him by phone, he said they flew him to China's Hunan province and found him a production partner in a matter of months.

Despite his hope to keep his company, and any jobs it might create, in the U.S., about two weeks ago he signed a deal with Chuangke Silicon Ltd. to create the joint venture Natcore China.

The day after ABC's World News aired a story about his solar technology, he said he received a call from an advisor to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

"The reason the meeting came about was because of ABC [and] World News," Provini said. "I was still in China and he called the office….We were just overwhelmed that they reached out and called us."

A White House spokesperson confirmed to ABC News that Provini met with White House officials, including Rob Nabors, a senior advisor to Emanuel, who asked if they could call on Provini for his ideas and advice in the future.

Provini said the advisors wanted to understand the chronology of events that led to Natcore China and what they could do to improve the environment for small businesses in the U.S.

"Their comments were, 'we wish we could have gotten in there first'," Provini said. "They were very eager to find a solution or to make the situation better."

The White House staffers also asked him to join an advisory group that gives input and advice on small businesses, he said, though the White House would not comment on the invitation.

President Obama: China Is Investing in Clean Energy Jobs That Should Be in U.S.

Provini said he told the White House officials that the key support China provided was finding him a suitable venture partner, while U.S. officials had focused mainly on grants and stimulus funds.

Though Natcore inked a deal with China on one piece of technology, Provini said he told the White House that the company had more significant technology that it would like to commercialize in the U.S.

"I told them we have got lots of technology," he said. "We want to do business here."

He said he described two kinds of solar technology in development at Natcore and asked the White House for help in identifying U.S. partners.

"From the second the meeting started, it was very obvious to me that Rob was trying to do something constructive, trying to do something that was helping small businesses," he said. "I left that meeting thinking that something very good and positive is going to happen for our country."

In an address from the Oval Office earlier this month, President Obama used the backdrop of the massive BP oil leak to push a clean energy agenda.

"The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Countries like China are investing in clean energy jobs and industries that should be right here in America," the president said.

Since 2005, investments in the clean energy sector have grown 230 percent, according to the Pew Environment Group Climate and Energy Program. In 2009, $162 billion was invested in clean energy globally and analysts forecast that investments will climb 25 percent to $200 billion in 2010.

But despite the worldwide opportunities in the fast-growing industry, experts say the United States lags behind countries such as China, Brazil, the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain.

"The U.S. is missing the boat," said Phyllis Cuttino, director of the Pew Environment Group Climate and Energy Program in Washington. In 2009, she said, China attracted $34.6 billion in clean energy investments, more than any other country. The United States during that same time attracted $18.6 billion, about half of China's total, she said.

When you look at the winners in this race, Cuttino said, they all have one key feature in common: a national clean energy policy.

The countries dominating the clean energy landscape have national policies to reduce global warming pollution and provide incentives for companies to use renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, but she said the United States only had a "patchwork" of state policies.

"We have a well-educated [population], a manufacturing base," she said. "We basically have all of the necessary ingredients to capitalize on a clean energy policy, but we need a policy."

ABC News' Dan Harris, Judy Isikow and Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.

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