A new report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says the renewable energy industry is responsible for 615,000 jobs in the United States. That’s hundreds of thousands of Americans working to provide this country with clean energy from wind, sun and plants. It’s the military vet in Kansas putting her hydraulics knowledge to work in her new job servicing 300-foot-tall wind turbines. It’s the former glass maker in Toledo, Ohio, who’s now manufacturing solar panels. It’s the farmer who’s got a new buyer in the biofuel plant just across the county line. It’s engineers and managers and truckers and technicians in nearly every state in the nation.
Renewable energy development is making a difference in this country, bringing sorely needed jobs and revenue to communities, while protecting clean air and clean water. Clean, renewable energy is working for us. That’s why so many Americans, from all political stripes, want to see more of it.
A recent national poll found that voters preferred investing in clean energy and efficiency over traditional fossil fuel energy by a margin of nearly 2-to-1. In Kansas, a recent poll found overwhelming support for clean, renewable energy and the government policies that encourage its growth. Roughly three-quarters of Republicans and Independents, and 82 percent of Democrats, support the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, which requires that utilities generate 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020. In fact, two-thirds of voters said they would support increasing the state’s standard to 25 percent. Nine out of ten poll respondents believed that using renewable energy is the right thing to do for the future of Kansas and the country.
Communities in Kansas are not alone in reaping the benefits of clean, renewable energy. According to preliminary analysis from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), more than 78,600 clean energy and clean transportation jobs were announced across the country in 2013. Over the past two years combined, E2 has tracked announcements that could create more than 186,500 jobs.
Federal tax policies–such as the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy, as well as energy efficiency tax incentives for buildings, equipment and appliances— are saving money and creating tens of thousands of jobs while also reducing dangerous carbon pollution that causes climate change and health problems. Congress allowed clean energy tax credits to expire last year: it needs to renew them.
In addition to creating thousands of jobs in the wind energy industry alone, clean energy tax credits save billions of dollars for taxpayers by helping make our homes, schools and office buildings more efficient, and making everyday appliances and equipment use less energy. Energy efficiency, of course, is the cleanest energy of all—there’s nothing cleaner than the energy we don’t use—and it drives job growth as well. In Ohio, for example, utility efficiency efforts alone have created 3,800 jobs, and are expected to create 32,000 jobs by 2025. Federal energy efficiency standards for appliances have generated 340,000 jobs as of 2010, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.
Clean energy is one of those issues that we can all rally around. We all want to breathe clean air and drink clean water. We all want to keep the lights on. We’d all like to avoid a future of more frequent, costly extreme weather, from crippling snowstorms in the South, and exhausting drought in the West, to dangerous hurricanes in the East and deadly floods in the Midwest. And we want a strong economy with good jobs, too.
Americans are looking to clean renewable energy because it provides so many of the solutions people are looking for—jobs, environmental protection, reliability, security. With the right policies in place to support the growth of renewable energy, we can continue to move toward a future of 100 percent clean energy.
Peter Lehner is the executive director of NRDC. The position is his second at NRDC. Beginning in 1994, he led the Clean Water Program for five years, before leaving in 1999 to serve as the head of the Environmental Protection Bureau for the Attorney General of the State of New York.