The following guest blog is from Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn (Ret.), president and CEO of the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE) and a 25x’25 Steering Committee member. This article first appeared in Politico April 4.
For many years renewable energy has been treated as a political punching bag in American politics. Americans hear false claims that renewable energy is a government-dependent energy source that forces taxpayers to spend more of their hard-earned money on electric bills. This misinformation, perpetuated by so-called “free market” champions like Grover Norquist is being disseminated in an attempt to halt the successful growth of renewable energy and to ensure that America stays dependent on dirty energy sources.
Yet, all across the country, in places like Ohio, North Carolina, Iowa, Colorado, Kansas and Virginia, an overwhelming majority of Americans – Democrat and Republican, pro-business and pro-environment – support renewable energy.
So as a nationwide initiative funded by opponents of renewable energy targets state Renewable Portfolio Standards , Americans should be asking themselves, with all the benefits that came with doubling our renewable energy capacity from 43.5 gigawatts to 85.7 gigawatts from 2008 to 2012, “Do we want more renewable energy or less?”
Well, according to recent polls conducted by George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communications, 77 percent of Republicans support using much more renewable energy than we use today, something policymakers and Norquist should note.
Renewable Portfolio Standards drive renewable energy development, but more importantly in difficult economic times, RPS policies can decrease electricity rates.
For example, in Michigan, the Public Service Commission found that renewable energy plants produce electricity at a rate 30 percent cheaper than new coal. And contrary to the inaccurate studies touted by Norquist and politically charged organizations like the John Locke Foundation, North Carolinians save about a $1 per month on their electricity bills because of their RPS. The falling costs of renewable energy for consumers is a result of solar prices decreasing nearly 80 percent in the past 10 years and wind prices decreasing nearly 40 percent in the past five years.
Remarkably, state RPS policies haven’t been effective only at saving or stabilizing electricity bills for consumers against the volatile prices of fossil fuels, they have also leveraged more than $100 billion in private investments in various state renewable energy projects. North Carolina has watched $1.7 billion in private investment flood into the state, energizing the energy value chain since the passage of its RPS. Montana has leveraged nearly $1.6 billion in private investment because of its RPS.
And the stakes are getting only higher as revenues from the global clean energy sector will reach almost $2 trillion in the next five years according to market analysts. If states capitalize on the opportunity to drive more renewable energy growth through strengthened state renewable energy policies, the benefits will be far-reaching for manufacturers, construction workers, engineers and many Americans looking for good work. These people deserve the opportunity to make their state competitive in the global market – to establish their state as a leader of the global market.
RPS policies have also supported incredibly strong job creation across the country in places like North Carolina, where 21,000 people are employed by the clean energy industry, and Kansas, where about 28,000 Americans work in clean energy. Together, America’s clean energy economy employs 3.4 million people and is growing four times faster than any other type of work, according to new data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And industries such as solar saw employment increase 13.2 percent in 2012 in large part due to RPS policies.
It makes economic sense to support policies that save Americans money and create good jobs, which is why states like Kansas have resisted efforts by Norquist and company to overturn their RPS even though renewable energy opponents lobbied vigorously in the Kansas Legislature. Kansas policymakers understand the economics of renewable energy that Norquist does not: Put simply, Kansas is resource-rich in wind. And further, that wind is responsible for supporting over 450 manufacturing facilities in the United States that employ hardworking Americans with jobs that put food on the table, pay the mortgage, strengthen the economy and clean up our environment from decades of fossil fuel addiction.
And what really makes renewable energy an economic game-changer is that wind, solar and biomass combined create nearly four times as many jobs per dollar compared to oil and natural gas. Divesting in such a promising industry and pushing away the investment that creates so many jobs would be detrimental for almost every American – except those who want us to stay dependent on their fossil fuel resources.
Strong state RPS policies have resulted in real-life positive impacts for many Americans across the 29 states with RPS policies in place. And the economic benefits of renewable energy will only increase over time. We’ve made great strides in recent years increasing the production of electricity from renewable energy and America can continue building on our success by protecting state RPS policies. Now is not the time to curb our commitment to renewable energy; now is the time to renew our commitment to an economic driving force, renewable energy.