John Hall is the Associate Vice President and Texas State Director for Clean Energy at the Environmental Defense Fund. He will speak at the 2017 Aspen Ideas Festival as part of the program track Feeling the Heat: The Big Ideas on Climate.
The clean energy economy now employs more than 3 million Americans, vastly outweighing the number of jobs in fossil fuel electricity. This impressive growth is largely a result of states – and not just the blue ones – enacting thoughtful, common sense policies that promote job creation and conservation.
In fact, the past year has seen remarkable clean energy progress from a slew of Republican-led states. Texas is a wind power juggernaut that keeps reaching new heights. In February, wind power broke records by supplying 23 percent of the state’s power, which was quickly surpassed in March when wind met over a quarter of Texas’ energy demand. Due in large part to forward-looking policies put in place under former Governors Bush and Perry, Texas produces nearly three times as much wind as the next-highest state, and supports nearly a quarter of the nation’s wind power jobs.
Yet wind is just one chapter of Texas’ clean energy story. The lone star state’s solar industry is undergoing rapid growth, and nearly 150,000 Texans work in energy efficiency-related jobs. With more potential for wind, solar, and energy efficiency than any other state, there is tremendous opportunity for economic growth and investment as Texas continues its transition to a clean energy economy.
And this move toward cleaner, healthier power has widespread support: 85 percent of Texas voters – representing both sides of the aisle – want to increase the use of clean power.
Moving north, Illinois also finds itself at the forefront of the nation’s clean energy economy, thanks to groundbreaking legislation. The Future Energy Jobs Act – passed with strong bipartisan support and signed into law by a Republican governor – will create thousands of homegrown jobs and bring in more than $10 billion in additional private investment, while saving Illinois billions of dollars in wasted energy.
Building on the success of the state’s existing energy efficiency programs – which have led to nearly 90,000 local jobs – Illinois will now be home to one of the most ambitious energy efficiency programs in the nation. It will kick-start enough renewable energy projects – 3,000 MW of solar development and 1,300 MW of wind – to power nearly a million homes. It also includes funding for low-income communities and job training in economically disadvantaged communities.
And at the end of last year, Republican Governor John Kasich of Ohio vetoed a bill that would have effectively extended the freeze on the state’s clean energy standards, citing job-creation as the main driver. Before the freeze, these standards helped Ohio families save over $1 billion on their electricity bills and brought huge investments into the state, supporting more than 25,000 jobs and slashing air pollution. The veto was praised by both environmentalists and major employers in the state, including Whirlpool, Nestlé, and Clif Bar.
Similarly, Michigan passed a landmark bill that significantly enhanced the state’s renewable and energy efficiency standards. Republican Governor Rick Snyder threw his weight behind the legislation, noting improved energy-independence and millions in electricity savings. The policy will boost Michigan’s energy efficiency sector, which already supports nearly 50,000 jobs.
And most recently, the Sunshine State took an important step toward more solar energy, by making it easier for Floridians to power their businesses with sunshine.
There are other red-state examples, too. And in all of them, state leaders encouraged, followed, or got out of the way of energy innovation. Everyday people and local economies are reaping the rewards.
Market-driven policies, coupled with smart government incentives and infrastructure improvements, are making states the primary propeller of this country’s profitable clean energy economy. After the president withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, California, New York, and Washington state agreed to form an alliance to meet its climate goals.
Clean energy is one of the nation’s best opportunities for creating American jobs. Unfortunately, Washington is gearing up to attack this rapidly growing sector. From the Environmental Protection Agency to the Department of Energy, President Trump’s appointees are aiming for more pollution, more federal control of state energy policies, higher utility bills, and fewer energy choices for Americans. Hopefully, red and blue states will defend the clean energy economy and continue their march toward a healthier energy future, with or without help from the Trump administration.
This post originally appeared on the Aspen Ideas Festival site.