Don Lepard, a Chattanooga business executive, recently won a contract from his hometown to install 27,000 wireless, energy-efficient LED streetlights in the city. Lepard moved fast. In the space of a few months, his company, Global Green Lighting (GGL), acquired a vacant 180,000 square foot manufacturing facility in nearby Hixon, Tennessee, brought back production lines from its operations in China, hired 25 people and started making bulbs. By the end of 2013, the company plans to hire a total of 250 workers in skilled manufacturing, engineering, and marketing positions, and ramp up production at the Tennessee plant to as many as 20,000 LED bulbs each month.
Clean energy companies like GGL are continuing to drive job growth in the Southeast and in every region of the country, according to a new report by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), an NRDC affiliate. E2 tracked more than 300 clean energy and clean transportation job announcements in 2012 that could create more than 110,000 jobs across the nation.
These green jobs provide more than just livelihoods. They’re giving us the tools to cut carbon pollution and provide clean air and clean water while revitalizing communities, helping cities save money, and improving quality of life for local residents. Just take one example. In Holland, Michigan, the local economy got a multimillion-dollar boost when a yacht manufacturer successfully branched out into producing wind turbine blades. In addition to hiring 100 new workers, the company is sourcing services from a number of Michigan businesses, has made several million dollars in investments and purchases in the local community, and has joined forces with Grand Rapids Community College to train new technicians for future hires. The company expects to create 1,000 jobs by 2016.
Federal and state policies that support renewable energy and efficiency helped make these projects (and more, profiled in E2’s report) happen, bringing economic and environmental benefits to hundreds of thousands of people. Chattanooga kicked off its efficient lighting upgrades with federal stimulus funding, and benefited from investment in lighting innovation by the Department of Energy. The Michigan yacht manufacturer capitalized on increasing demand for wind energy driven by state renewable portfolio standards around the country (these standards require utilities to get a growing portion of energy from renewables) alongside state and federal clean energy tax incentives.
In many states, however, the benefits of renewable energy and the economic lift the industry can provide is under attack by a fossil-fuel-industry-backed group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Conservative state legislators affiliated with this group are working to overturn or weaken state renewable energy portfolio standards in more than a dozen states, including Kansas, where wind energy is booming, North Carolina, where solar is strong, Ohio, Missouri, and others. In these states and in communities across the country, the clean energy industry has been a source of growth, pride, and innovation. We need more businesses like these. It makes no sense to turn back progress.
President Obama’s goal of doubling both renewable energy and energy efficiency is within our reach, provided that the states and the federal government can ensure a stable, consistent environment that allows businesses to invest in clean energy, gives workers opportunities to find clean jobs, and spurs entrepreneurs to build exciting new companies.