Ending renewable energy’s villainy
The Republican and Democratic National Conventions mark the beginning of the end for the 2012 presidential campaign and – one hopes – the end of a regrettable chapter in American politics: a time when supporting real economic growth by encouraging American entrepreneurs became less important than throwing political punches.
For the better part of a year, politicians have paid lip service to aiding entrepreneurship, arguing that to pull our economy out of a recession we need to support small businesses and growing industries. Despite this, one sector filled with entrepreneurship and successful companies has been maligned, ignored, and in some instances vilified (Solyndra being the most prominent example). What’s so wrong with the U.S. solar, wind, biofuels and other clean, renewable energy industries?
It’s long past time to move beyond the accusatory politics of misrepresented facts and return to the bipartisan collaborative spirit that has driven clean energy’s success in this country. With less bad politics and more good policy, the sector can rapidly expand and make America a world leader in clean, renewable energy technology.
The fact is that the U.S. renewable energy industry is far stronger today than it was when the bipartisan Energy Policy Act passed in 2005; since then private investment has leveraged government support and both have played an important role in the industry’s success. Overall last year, U.S. solar installations doubled. Since 2007, 35 percent of all new electricity-generating capacity in the U.S. came from wind power. And last year, America produced 14 billion gallons of biofuels – double the amount of oil we import from Venezuela.
The U.S. now leads global clean energy investment, and clean technology is the leading venture capital category. Recent weeks have seen the announcement of hundreds of millions of dollars in new private investments in these technologies. For example, on July 25 investment bank Credit Suisse announced $300 million in new funding for rooftop solar installers SunRun and SolarCity. That is in addition to more than $120 billion in commitments to renewable energy by Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America and other major financial institutions.
The U.S. military has also become a major supporter of energy efficiency and solar, wind, biofuels and other clean technologies for the tremendous value they provide in combat effectiveness, cost savings and energy security. There are plans to install 160,000 solar systems on military residence rooftops across 33 states. Military investments have led the nation and helped reduce the cost of advanced biofuels by more than 80 percent.
And the Army is planning to invest $7 billion over the coming years to obtain 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Most importantly, these investments will save lives and make America a more secure nation.
And herein lies the contradiction: Our nation’s biggest investors and armed forces clearly support the renewable energy technologies. Why, then, are so many politicians so far behind? Why are our nation’s biggest investors and our armed forces sticking with renewable energy technologies when some in Congress have abandoned them?
Because those politicians have failed to look at the big picture. Anyone who has invested in a new growth industry understands that success is often accompanied by some failure. To take the solar industry as one example, verticals that experience exponential growth will also have their share of falling costs. In the end, some companies go under, while others thrive. It happened with the American auto industry. It happened with the American software industry. And today, it is happening with solar. That is why leaders with the long view aren’t heading for the hills. They are doubling down.
Indeed, the investment flowing into the U.S. solar industry has driven record growth and impressive cost reductions. In the first quarter of this year, more than 18,000 solar electric systems came online in the United States – an 85 percent increase over the same quarter in 2011. Overall last year, U.S. solar installations doubled, and the average price of solar installations in the U.S. fell by 20 percent.
Growth like this has real benefits to families across the country. In the second quarter of 2012 alone, more than 37,000 new clean energy jobs were announced at projects across the country, according to Environmental Entrepreneurs. Add to that more than 100,000 solar workers, 75,000 workers in the wind industry and 400,000 biofuels jobs, and you start to get the picture. By focusing attention on isolated pockets of bad news, partisan leaders have done a great disservice to an industry that is encouraging investment, providing energy security and creating opportunity for American workers – something that cannot be said for other sectors of the economy. More to the point, they have done a great disservice to the speed and sureness of America’s economic recovery by putting partisan politics first.
We are entering uncertain waters as the presidential and congressional campaigns battle through the fall and a changed Capitol Hill – and fiscal cliff – looms in 2013. If we are truly committed to economic recovery, we must put politics aside and commit ourselves to promoting a renewable energy industry that is, by any measure, a true American success story.
PHOTO: U.S. President Barack Obama talks to the media on the Heil Family Farm, a wind farm, in Haverhill, Iowa, August 14, 2012. REUTERS/Larry Downing