State of the Union: Clean Energy Bridges Partisan Divide

Among the national priorities highlighted in President Obama’s State of the Union speech, few garnered as strong a positive reaction from voters as his plan to reform our energy system and build the nation’s rapidly growing clean energy economy. As dial testing of the speech with a group of swing voters showed, the President’s call to increase investments in and support for the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, compete with countries like China and Germany on energy innovation, and end giveaways to oil companies prompted some of the strongest positive reactions of the night across party lines—second only to his mention of the death of Osama bin Laden.

There’s good reason for this broad public support.  Renewable energy and energy efficiency is creating jobs and economic growth and putting American ingenuity to work right now in states across the country, thanks to smart public-private investments and partnerships and energy standards.  Poll after poll, has shown that the public believes this and wants renewable energy and energy efficiency to become an even bigger part of our energy future.  They also want their leaders to do more to support these growing industries.  Nine in ten Americans—including 82 percent of Republicans and 91 percent of independents—say developing renewable energy should be a priority for the president and Congress.  

Even Republican leaders at the federal and state levels acknowledge these benefits and jobs when they’re not trying to score political points in Washington and their state houses.

Take, for example, Gov. Mitch Daniels’ home state of Indiana.  While Daniels and Congressional Republicans focused their remarks in DC on the Keystone pipeline and what he called, “the extremism that stifles the development of homegrown energy,” he neglected to mention the rapid growth of wind energy and other clean energy industries that are providing new economic opportunities and jobs at a much faster pace than the fossil fuel industry in his state.  One example is GBT USA, Inc., which announced in September 2011 that it would be locating a wind turbine manufacturing facility in Southern Indiana that could create as many as 400 new jobs by 2014.  Gov. Daniels joined the executives of the company for the announcement. 

Despite their attacks on clean energy programs and policies inside the beltway, other Republicans have taken the time to visit and advocate for prospering clean energy companies in their states and districts as well—even Rep. Stearns, who said that America couldn’t compete with China in making solar panels and wind turbines.  Rep. Stearns has visited and/or endorsed a number of renewable energy companies in his state, including Saft America, a company that makes lithium-ion battery cells for military hybrid vehicles and solar and wind energy storage in Jacksonville, FL.  The company was able to leverage financing for its plant with the help of a grant from the Department of Energy (DOE) and is expected to employ about 300 people when it reaches full-operating capacity.  Rep. Stearns endorsed the project.

The clean economy at large now counts 2.7 million workers in its ranks, according to the Brookings Institution—more than the entire fossil fuel industry.  Solar is one of the economy’s fastest-growing industries and our nation’s 5,000 solar companies now employ more than 100,000 workers, with more on the way.  The wind industry now employs 85,000 Americans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and more than 150,000 Americans are manufacturing parts for and assembling cleaner cars.  There are also over 400,000 workers manufacturing and installing more energy-efficient technologies, such as more efficient lighting and heating and cooling systems, that save consumers money on their energy bills, provide better performance and reduce pollution. 

Since September 2011, NRDC’s partner Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) has counted all sorts of job announcements from 200 companies, large and small, that will be creating new jobs in the clean economy over the next few years.

As President Obama noted, smart federal investments designed to leverage private sector financing and partnerships between the government and American businesses have played a major role in this rapid growth—“In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries.  Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled.  And thousands of Americans have jobs because of it.”

North Carolina, for example, has seen a wave of manufacturing job announcements as a result of financial support from the DOE and state incentives that has helped to leverage private sector funding.  Durham, NC-based Semprius is building a 50,000 square-foot plant in Henderson to produce concentrated photovoltaic (CPV) cells and modules.  The company expects to create 256 jobs at full build-out of the plant.  Seed funding from the Department of Energy and contributions from the State of North Carolina and local agencies helped to leverage private sector investment in the plant. And in China Grove, NC, Hitachi Metals announced that it will be investing $60 million over the next four years to expand its magnet-production facility to meet global demand, creating 65 new jobs.  The company’s magnets are used primarily in hybrid and electric vehicles.  An incentive grant from the state helped secure the company’s decision to locate in North Carolina.  These are just two examples of a growing trend we are seeing in community after community.

And we’re just getting started.  We can create even more jobs, lead in energy innovation and build a cleaner more prosperous future if we make the right choices and grow our current support and investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency.  As the President outlined, we are at a crossroads when it comes to meeting our energy challenges.  We can continue to produce more made-in America energy from renewable sources that won’t run out, won’t leave us hamstrung to foreign countries, and won’t hurt our health and environment.  We can reduce our energy consumption and put money back into consumers’ pocketbooks with more efficient appliances and cars.  And we can do what we do best—put our ingenuity to work to develop innovative new technologies that will make us a world leader in clean energy.

Or we can continue to listen to the same propaganda from the fossil fuel industry and its supporters in Congress who say that we need to increase our reliance on dirty and limited fossil fuels; that investments in clean energy are a bad idea; or that we can’t compete with China and other countries when it comes to wind, solar and other technologies.

The public is counting on its leaders to make the right choices when it comes to our energy future and support the continued expansion of our growing renewable energy and energy efficient industries which are bringing renewed hope and much-needed jobs to communities in every state.  Democrats, Independents and Republicans agree we need to shift to renewable energy that’s clean and reliable and use our energy more wisely for the sake of our economy, our security, and our health and environment.  Now it’s time for Congress to stop its partisan antics on energy and tune into the overwhelming support for clean energy policies and programs across the country.  Businesses and jobs are on the line.