By Todd Foley 07/16/2013
If you ask any American from any state (red or blue): “What do you see as the energy source of the future?” they will answer “green.”
Green energy saves money at the pump and on the monthly power bill, fuels economic growth, and cleans the environment. Polls shows that Americans believe renewable energy is the most promising energy source of the future, not just for its environmental benefits but because of its triple bottom line - jobs, more secure energy resources, and a more resilient and less damaging fuel source. Even more importantly, when you ask Americans what type of energy sources they want their policymakers to support right now, polls show that nearly 80 percent of Americans want their representatives to vote for policies aimed at strengthening American renewable energy. But up on Capitol Hill, despite a history of strong bipartisan support for energy research and development, the majority of policymakers in the House of Representative are doing the exact opposite of what their constituents want. They are tearing apart a variety of programs that support American renewable energy, one of our most economically and environmentally promising industries. While we understand the importance of reducing the nation’s debt (and we all must do our part), it is the very technologies being defunded that are the key to the cheaper, cleaner, and more diverse energy supply necessary for a growing economy.
The private sector has done and continues to do its part to make renewable energy technologies competitive. For example, in 2012, more than 49 percent of all new power came from renewable energy sources. According to MidAmerican Energy, one of the largest utilities in the country, investments in Midwest wind farms are reducing consumer power bills. Rather than reduce investment in renewable energy, now is the time to step on the gas pedal and accelerate the transition to cheaper, cleaner, and more diverse energy supply.
The recent actions in the House of Representatives aimed at derailing funding for many successful DOE programs show how misaligned policymakers are with what Americans want. Americans want more private investment and jobs. Renewable energy can provide Americans more private sector jobs in areas like construction, engineering, and maintenance. Americans want a stronger electrical grid. Renewable energy is fundamentally transforming the grid into a much more resilient electrical network. But in order for this transformation to be realized, policymakers need to send positive market signals by providing stable and long-term support for renewables that leverages necessary private investment into the industry.
Even though some people - including policymakers - say government has no role in innovating technologies that have potential to become commercialized, recent history shows a different story. Republicans and Democrats alike have supported investment in innovative technologies that have given us computers, GPS, and cellphones. In the energy sphere, the federal government has a continuing long history of investing in technology development.
Even the recent success of the natural gas industry can be credited, in part, to the federal government. Thanks in part to decades of federal funding, the oil and natural gas industries have made incredible strides in technologies and extraction tactics such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. These advances have worked wonders for the industry. Further, we must understand that these breakthroughs are funded by government and then leveraged by the private sector. And when you consider that the federal government has supported the fossil fuel industry with over 12 times the amount of funding renewable energy has received, it certainly seems fair to provide balanced policy support for renewable energy so that it, too, can scale-up to provide abundant, relatively inexpensive power to fuel America.
Despite a weak and uncertain economy and justified concern about the nation’s deficit, Americans across the country already understand that renewable energy has been a bright spot in an otherwise sluggish economy. It is an essential element of any strategy to reduce energy costs in the near and long-term. Across many states, both public and private investment in renewable energy supports hundreds of thousands of jobs - like the 21,000 renewable energy jobs in North Carolina or the 4,100 renewable energy jobs announced in Q1 of this year in Massachusetts. And these successes only represent a small chunk of the economic benefits renewable energy can - and do - provide our country.
So instead of cutting the Department of Energy’s renewable energy budget and gutting programs like ARPA-E by cutting its budget 80 percent, Congress should instead consider what the American people and economy need. They should commit to their support for renewable energy. They should support the suite of policies such as DOE’s R&D budget, the federal tax credits, and state Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which can drive America to becoming the leading clean energy economy. These policy investments will pay off with economic, energy security, and environmental dividends now and in the future. Just listen to what the American people already think of American renewable energy.
Foley is senior vice president of Policy and Government Relations at the American Council On Renewable Energy (ACORE). This piece was originally published in The Hill.