'Fuel was cheap and pollution was free'

That's what the world was like when the current energy system was designed, said GridPoint CEO Peter Corsell. Plus more memorable moments from Fortune's Brainstorm: Green conference.

By Marc Gunther, senior writer

Bill Ford on the history of the auto industry: 'We haven't had a lot of revolutions but boy are we now. I love it.'

Laguna Niguel, Calif. (Fortune) -- FORTUNE's Brainstorm: Green conference is not even 24 hours old as I write this and already we've had a lot of memorable moments. Here are some of the things we've heard so far:

Better Place's Shai Agassi, the dynamic electric-car entrepreneur who is making headway in Israel, Denmark, Hawaii and San Francisco: "If you're willing to give me what you pay for gasoline, I'll give you a free (electric) car." Electric cars will be dramatically more efficient than gas-powered ones as battery costs come down, he argues.

Bill Ford, chairman of Ford (F, Fortune 500), on the history of the auto industry: "We haven't had a lot of revolutions but boy are we now. I love it."

More from Ford, on how times have changed: "When I joined the (Ford) board, I was asked to stop affiliating with known or suspected environmentalists." Ford now works with Paul Hawken and Environmental Defense Fund.

Hawken, on why a small-is-beautiful guy has agreed to advise Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) and Ford on sustainability: "I'm a slut for change."

Ford to Ian Clifford, CEO of Zenn Motors, an electric-car startup: "You guys are leading the charge, so to speak!" Ford really won over the crowd with his low-key charm.

PG&E (PCG, Fortune 500) CEO Peter Darbee, yet another electric car fan: "I believe the electric car will be one of the great areas of breakthrough that will change our industry."

More from Darbee: "The smart grid will be the key enabling technology for the electric cars."

Peter Corsell, CEO of GridPoint, on the smart grid: "Current system was designed in an era when information was scarce, fuel was cheap and pollution was free."

David Crane, the CEO of NRG Energy (NRG, Fortune 500), another utility guy who likes electric cars: "The electric car is our savior; it is the air conditioner of the 21st century."

Alan Hanson, executive VP of nuclear power company Areva (ARVCY), saying concerns about nuclear waste are way overblown: "I don't know of any part of the electricity generating world that treats its waste as well as the nuclear industry does."

More from Crane: "I'm convinced that there will be three nuclear power plants built in the U.S. in the next 10 years." Whether they will be anomalies (supported by a limited pool of federal loan guarantees) or lead to a nuclear renaissance remains to be seen.

Crane, explaining why there is no political constituency for nuclear energy in Washington, where Waxman, Boxer and Browner are anti-nuke but eager to accommodate the coal industry: "Right now the dominant wing of the Democratic Party knows they need to accommodate the coal wing of the Democratic Party in order to get energy and environmental policy passed."

Michael Kowalski, CEO of Tiffany & Co., (TIF) on why he had never come to a "green" conference: "Fear of being accused of greenwashing. There is so much work to be done"

Van Jones, the White House's new green jobs czar: "Everyone who hears that you work in the White House thinks you see [Barack Obama] every day."

"I've seen the guy twice and I almost fainted the first time."

Also from Van Jones: "It's a long winding road from the time that someone signs a bill into law to the time when someone signs a paycheck." To top of page

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