This post was co-authored by my colleague Roland Hwang and is also posted on his blog.
In this week's State of the Union address, President Obama cited the importance of clean energy in strengthening our economy here at home, making us competitive internationally, and in fighting the greatest "threat to future generations"--climate change. But we know that clean energy doesn't happen by itself. We need to ensure that petty politics do not undermine the critical policies needed to keep clean energy moving forward, policies that the vast majority of Americans favor.
The president cited progress in solar and wind power, and the benefits of fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. He called out climate deniers in Congress and promised to lead international action to combat global warming. Each of these is vital if we are to succeed in transforming the ways energy is produced and used in the world, and offer a safe and prosperous future for our children.
President Obama's speech also helped illuminate the promise that renewable energy and energy efficiency holds out to us all: good jobs that can't be outsourced; the easing of tight budgets for families and businesses; and a cleaner, healthier future for all. The promise of a clean energy economy also presents an opportunity for Americans to come together to build something that unites us, something we can embrace together, rather than something that pulls us apart.
The president rightfully proclaimed the achievements of this country and his administration in leading the way in clean power. "America is number one in wind power," he pointed out. "Every three weeks, we bring online as much solar power as we did in all of 2008.And thanks to lower gas prices and higher fuel [efficiency] standards, the typical family this year should save $750 at the pump."
Clean Energy Needs Policies to Succeed
But clean energy doesn't happen by itself. It takes focused, smart and sustained policies to overcome the incumbent fossil fuel industries. We're talking here about the federal Production Tax Credit for wind power which is now expired due to fossil fuel industry opposition. The credit has helped drive incredible innovation in technology and sizeable deployment--wind power now supplies 4.5 percent of the nation's electricity. Without the PTC, the burgeoning industry could lose 30,000 jobs. Similarly, the expired Investment Tax Credit for offshore wind power must be reauthorized to jumpstart this promising form of pollution-free power that already employs almost 60,000 in Europe. Congress also needs to reinstate a host of energy efficiency, alternative fuels, and manufacturing tax credits that it failed to renew for 2015.
To break our dependence on oil, we should not listen to those in the auto industry who are calling for weakening of the clean car standards. These historic standards will double fuel economy by 2025 to 54.5 mpg, and have helped drive the revival of the U.S. auto industry, creating jobs and leadership in advanced technologies of the future. Thanks to these standards, U.S. fuel economy is at an all-time high. Federal tax credits for electric vehicles also have been key to driving electric vehicle sales to new heights.
The president's Clean Power Plan, which will reduce the dangerous emissions from power plants, promises to take clean energy to the next level. Given the potential that no-emissions solar and wind power and energy efficiency have to help states cost-effectively meet their goals for reducing carbon emissions from power generation, the Clean Power Plan will create new opportunities for clean energy technologies and advance the clean energy growth that's instrumental to the nation's recovery.
More Clean Energy Also Means More Jobs
In his speech, the president mentioned employment that can grow at companies like Tesla, the electric car innovator. Meanwhile, jobs in the solar power industry alone grew so fast last year--almost 20 times quicker than in the economy as a whole--that one in 78 new jobs in America was a solar job, with a total of more than 31,000 new full-time positions. Of the 800,000 new manufacturing jobs added to our economy since 2010, more than 32,000 are in solar manufacturing. And exports of wind-power technology components manufactured in America soared, from only $16 million in 2007 to $421 million in 2013 (the most recent data available).
Americans Want Clean Energy
Americans of all political stripes support clean energy. Earlier this week, a poll released jointly by the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College showed 84 percent of Americans--five out of six--support energy efficiency standards for new homes and appliances. Seventy-nine percent support renewable energy standards requiring that a certain percentage of electricity be generated from clean sources like wind power, solar power and energy efficiency. That number includes two-thirds of Republicans and 83 percent of Independents. And in survey results released Thursday, polling conducted in five states confirms broad support for investment in efficiency and renewable resources over traditional fuels like coal, oil and gas.
Let's not let petty politics and the big polluters hold us back from the future that we need and deserve. America should tap into our ingenuity, and do what we do best: use innovation to move us forward to a cleaner, healthier and safer future.