Greening Ohio: Bringing Clean Energy Jobs to the Midwest

Last week I had the honor of speaking at the famous City Club in Cleveland, Ohio. In its more than 100 year history, the City Club has hosted every candidate who has run for president. I am not running for office, of course, but I am traveling the country these days talking about how clean energy and climate legislation will solve Americans' number one concern right now: jobs.

That's why Ohio was such a good place to go. It has enormous potential to become, as Ohio's Senator Brown likes to say, the Silicon Valley of clean energy technology.

Now that might surprise some people. After all, Ohio is home to multiple energy-intensive industries, and it gets a shocking 85 percent of its electricity from dirty coal.

I am under no illusions that Ohio will rid itself of coal power overnight. That will be a gradual process, and it will require federal incentives for capturing global warming pollution from coal plants and storing it underground.

But in the meantime, Ohio is taking steps to shift toward greener energy. NRDC's Midwest Program has been working for the past few years in Ohio in support of the state's excellent energy efficiency programs and its new renewable energy requirement.

These initiatives are a good start, but a national climate law that increases demand for clean energy technologies would dramatically expand the number of good paying jobs in Ohio.

We are well aware of how critical the jobs issue is in Ohio, and we know that a national clean energy agenda has to demonstrate its ability to generate new jobs. We are confident that it can.

The University of Massachusetts, for instance, has estimated that Ohio alone could produce over 80,000 clean energy jobs. These include jobs for steelworkers who build wind turbines, electricians who install solar panels, construction workers who retrofit buildings and homes to make them more energy efficient.

Why so many opportunities?  Because clean energy jobs are more labor intensive and require more domestically-made materials than the fossil fuel industry. Studies show that for every $1 million spent on clean energy, we can create 3 to 4 times as many jobs as if we spent the same amount on fossil fuels.

My NRDC colleague, Pete Altman, knows an Ohio man named Wes McGuire who got laid off when his factory closed down. Wes decided to take a two-week training course in green technology that was offered by his county career center. The course led to an interview with a Springboro, Ohio company called Cobasys, which makes batteries for hybrid vehicles. Now Wes is a maintenance technician and CWA-IUE member at Cobasys.

If the American Clean Energy and Security Act gets passed by Congress in the next month or two, more people like Wes will find jobs at Cobasys, because the bill includes provisions that will expand the market for hybrids. Cobasys will need to ramp up production to meet the rising demand, and that means more jobs in Ohio.

While I was in Cleveland, I talked with a number of community leaders and business executives, and each one of them said they want Ohio to be a leader in the clean energy economy.

They have the ability, because a national push for low-carbon technologies will tap into Ohio's traditional strengths. Ohio has a remarkable industrial base, dense networks of upstream and downstream suppliers close to R&D facilities, and a well-trained work force.

Look at Toledo. The former glass capitol is converting factories to make solar panels. There are already 90 companies in Ohio that manufacture the 8,000 parts it takes to build a wind turbine.

The clean energy economy in the Midwest will be about using what you have, but changing what you do with it. The jobs will follow.