The clean-energy transition is powering the U.S. economy

The federal government has an important role facilitating the acceleration of a clean, modern 21st century energy system. Ignoring that role or diminishing its effectiveness go against the tide of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that is creating U.S. jobs and helping the economy flourish.

Companies, states, and cities are all pursuing clean energy and energy efficiency because it makes economic sense. The federal government needs to encourage this innovation, not try to slow it down.

Consider that clean energy is the fastest growing energy sector in the United States. Renewables have accounted for more than half of new U.S. power capacity for the past three years in a row. Thanks to market forces, including falling prices for renewables and relatively low and stable prices for natural gas, the U.S. energy system is getting cleaner.

The drive for clean energy and sustainability is also putting Americans to work. The latest U.S. Department of Energy report shows the solar workforce increased by 25 percent to about 374,000 in 2016, while wind employment increased by 32 percent to about 102,000. Almost 2 million Americans are employed in the design, installation, and manufacture of energy-efficiency products and services. The U.S. nuclear industry directly employs about 50,000, and growing global demand could generate thousands of U.S. industry jobs.

Private enterprise is leading this clean-energy transition. Since the election, Google announced it will meet its goal this year of running on 100 percent renewable power. HP pledged to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from its global operations by 25 percent from 2015 levels by 2025. NRG completed the first retrofit of a U.S. coal-fired power plant to capture carbon emissions in Texas – on time and under budget.

Many states and cities are also embracing clean energy and clean transportation.

  • Twenty-nine states have renewable portfolio standards requiring utilities to deliver a certain amount of electricity from renewable or alternative energy. Since the election, several states, including Maryland and Michigan, have taken steps to raise their standards.
  • Eleven states already have limits on carbon dioxide emissions, and are using effective, market-based approaches to achieve the reductions economically.
  • Several states, including California, Connecticut, and New York, have created Clean Energy Banks or Green Banks to facilitate more private investment in clean energy projects.
  • More than two-dozen U.S. cities have committed to switch entirely to renewable energy.
  • About 30 cities have told U.S. automakers they want electric street sweepers, trash haulers and other vehicles, potentially generating $10 billion in sales.

These steps by businesses, states, and cities are significant. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates the average city alone could reduce its carbon footprint nearly 20 percent by taking steps like improving building codes, increasing access to public transit, practicing “smart” growth, incentivizing solar and localized electricity systems or “microgrids.”

But all these steps are not enough to address the climate and energy issues we face. Without federal leadership, we won’t maximize the benefits of state policies and we’ll see more lawsuits and regulatory uncertainty that slow business decision-making and investment.

Delaying federal climate action also increases the risk of climate impacts such as frequent and intense extreme weather, rising sea levels, droughts and heat waves that many communities are already experiencing. Failing to act now means paying more later.

In the near term, there are opportunities for bipartisan steps at the federal level that could help both the environment and the economy, including:

Incentivizing carbon capture. Bipartisan support is growing on Capitol Hill and beyond to accelerate carbon capture deployment on power plants and industrial sources like steel and cement plants. Senate and House lawmakers introduced bipartisan bills in April to help unleash private capital to scale up the number of carbon capture projects. This is the crucial first step to bring down capture costs, which could help create a market for using manmade carbon dioxide in useful products.

Advancing nuclear energy. Nuclear, our largest source of zero-carbon energy, will have to play a role in any long-term climate strategy. There’s bipartisan support for preserving existing nuclear plants, and spurring the research and development that will lead to the next generation of nuclear energy. House and Senate lawmakers have reintroduced the bipartisan Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act to enhance collaboration between private sector innovators and the Department of Energy’s national labs.

Modernizing our infrastructure. This key goal of the new administration could create jobs and improve climate resilience. A modernized grid and support for energy efficiency can make communities more resilient while reducing their carbon footprint. We could expand charging and refueling networks for electric, natural gas and hydrogen vehicles. And as we rebuild our roads and bridges, let’s make sure they’re built to last and can withstand more frequent extreme weather.

Empowering states. Reasonable people can debate the relative roles for state and federal government in environmental regulation, however it is unreasonable to expect states to take on more responsibilities with less federal funding and support. We urge Congress to include funding for states and important agency support at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy.

Promoting American energy, putting Americans to work, and powering the American economy shouldn’t be partisan issues. Putting “America First” also means recognizing the climate risks to U.S. communities and companies and the economic benefits of a clean energy future. As an organization committed to building bridges, C2ES is prepared to work with the private sector and public officials at all levels of government to find practical climate solutions.