Lawmakers must create renewable-energy jobs

Stephen Smith | March 19, 2010 | Energy Policy

Opinion Editorial by Stephen Smith
Originally published March 19, 2009 in the Orlando Sentinel

Aaron Deslatte’s column, “Legislature 2010: Can Lawmakers Create Jobs?” on recently, provided a good overview of the efforts that the state Legislature is considering to lower Florida’s high unemployment rate.

In Deslatte’s column, House Speaker Larry Cretul says, “We’ve all heard ‘government doesn’t create jobs,’ but government has the ability to create the environment for jobs to flourish.”

where-to-find-green-jobsCretul is right. The enormous potential for job creation in the renewable-energy sector — solar, biomass, geothermal energy and other cutting-edge innovations — should be high on lawmakers’ lists for the 2010 session. The renewable-energy industry grew three times as fast as the U.S. economy in 2007, and this is business that Florida ought to jump on now. Florida is already losing renewable-energy jobs to other states and countries. China, in particular, is charging ahead with renewable-energy manufacturing and innovation.

Florida could — and should — be on the leading edge of this industry. More than 75 percent of renewable-energy jobs are in the manufacturing and construction industries — the exact skill sets for many of Florida’s unemployed construction-trade workers.

Florida has one of the largest economies in the United States — bigger than a lot of countries — yet 80 percent of the dollars spent on energy here now flow out of state. We need to keep those dollars in-state by growing clean energy business here.

A robust renewable-energy market would produce demand for billions of dollars of components needed for renewable-energy plants and technology. A 2009 study by the Blue Green Alliance examined the benefits of a strong renewable-energy market in Florida and found that renewable-energy growth would create business for up to 1,617 firms and as many as 18,704 green jobs in the solar, wind, geothermal and biomass industries.

Other states have put market incentives in place to grow the renewable-energy sector. The states establish targets for the amount of renewable energy that’s part of their overall energy mix. Gov. Charlie Crist proposed a target of 20 percent renewable energy by the year 2020. The Legislature failed to pass it last year, but should move ahead this year.

If Florida fails to create that market certainty, other states — not Florida — will get in on the ground floor. Other states will attract the small businesses that create innovative energy solutions, improve solar collection and install geothermal heating and cooling systems, to name a few. Other states will land the large firms that build manufacturing plants and employ workers to produce the components needed for renewable-energy sources like biomass and solar.

Besides creating jobs, committing to a viable renewable-energy market in Florida will also insulate residents from volatile energy prices. A state’s energy mix is like a stock portfolio, and renewable resources are sensible low-risk investments. If we don’t change course, Florida will get almost half (46.7 percent) of its total electric supply from natural gas by 2017. Natural gas prices are volatile and dependent on unstable world events.

To move into the future, Florida should boost its investment in low-risk renewable resources, which account for only 4.4 percent of our energy mix today. Solar energy has no fuel costs and biomass uses a stable, homegrown fuel source that keeps dollars spent on fuel in Florida.

While conventional power capital costs are skyrocketing, rates for electricity from solar photovoltaic sources dropped from $27 per peak watt in 1982 to about $4 today. Electricity rates from dirty-fuel sources keep going up; Progress Energy announced a customer bill increase of 31 percent in August 2008. By contrast, states that diversified their economy with renewable energy have seen minimal or no rate impacts from renewable resources.

Floridians should urge their lawmakers to pass common-sense targets for renewable energy during this legislative session. It would be a shame for Florida to lose out on the jobs that are coming with the worldwide renewable-energy wave.

Copyright © 2010, Orlando Sentinel

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has 30 years of experience affecting change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as its executive…
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