Building a Clean Energy Economy

Guest Blog | February 17, 2009 | Energy Policy

President’s Day was a good time to reflect on the spirit of past leaders who inspired people and shaped a brand-new country.  The men and women who explored new frontiers and established communities in the Wild West relished change and worked hard to meet the challenges they faced.  More recent leaders brought us all into the Information Technology Age, expanding economic opportunities and creating new industries and trades.

Honoring this history, President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 today at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  Climate change, our economic crisis and the myriad consequences of our nation’s dependency on fossil fuels require us to move to a new frontier.  Settling in a clean energy economy, the Clean Technology Age, will create unimagined opportunities and jobs, renewing and strengthening our nation’s economy.

These new jobs and opportunities are desperately needed: our nation’s unemployment rate has risen to 7.6%, and the average unemployment rate in the South is now over 8.5%.  These statistics are not our destiny: we can repower our economy with new energy systems that encourage efficiency, transportation systems that provide cleaner and cheaper options and buildings that improve quality of life while saving consumers money.

Our future will require hard work, and more importantly, it will require workers.  Familiar roles from entrepreneurs and venture capitalists to electricians, welders, homebuilders, construction workers and bus drivers will expand.  New titles like Solar Panel Installer, Electric Vehicle Technician and Energy Efficiency Consultant will continue to emerge.  Combining existing skills and expertise with the knowledge and resources we need to build a clean energy economy will turn white and blue-collar jobs into well-paid green collar jobs.

In 2007 the Blue Green Alliance (a partnership between the United Steelworkers and the Sierra Club) published a report showing that a commitment to renewable energy will yield new jobs in the Southeast and other parts of the country.  In Florida, for example, 1,617 firms already manufacture components that build wind turbines, solar panels, and other renewable energy infrastructure.  The report concludes that a concentrated 10 year renewable energy development program could create anywhere between 16,000-30,000 jobs for each of our Southeastern states.

Another recent study, this one published by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Employment Security Division, found that a $1.9 billion investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy could create 45,000 new jobs in Tennessee alone.  Furthermore, a recent analysis of North Carolina’s modest renewable energy standard shows that renewable energy sources, such as solar or bioenergy, create more long-term job opportunities than conventional energy resources, such as coal.

Moreover, the economic impact of developing our region’s clean energy potential extends beyond the direct job opportunities created in one particular sector of the economy.  Indirect economic consequences expand the benefits of investing in clean energy even further.

For example, a University of Georgia study of the economic impact of a 50 million gallon cellulosic ethanol production facility in Treutlen County, Georgia demonstrated significant indirect economic benefits.  Plant construction would create a one-time economic impact that includes 313 direct jobs and 176 jobs indirectly.  Total annual labor income for those 489 jobs would exceed $19.5 million (or an average of roughly $40,000 per job).  On an annual basis, the facility would provide roughly 69 jobs, but the facility’s economic impact is expected to create 375 additional jobs throughout Georgia’s economy.

A clean energy future that taps into these opportunities is not inevitable, but neither was the emergence of a unique, new country that exceeded everyone’s expectations—including those of the leaders and pioneers who risked everything to see it to fruition.  Although we are addicted to oil and overly dependent on dirty energy from coal, we have the tools we need to provide worker-training programs and incentivize investments in a clean energy economy.  Now is our time to head boldly into a new frontier!

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