AS elections heat up, some partisans are trying to turn clean energy into a divisive campaign issue. Misguided, inaccurate attacks on the green-energy industry — which has flourished over the past decade — are taking place around the nation every day.
Yes, the solar energy company Solyndra didn’t make it. Yes, some other companies with cutting-edge clean-energy technologies have failed. Failure is a fundamental aspect to the development of any industry, whether it is energy, transportation or mobile phones. Through competition, the best products and solutions survive and evolve.
But asserting that clean energy as a whole is a failure is absurd. While the attack rhetoric garners media headlines, a real look at the facts about green technologies demonstrates anything but failure. Just last week, the U.S. solar industry announced that it had its second-best quarter in history, having installed 742 megawatts of solar power. Costs have fallen more than 40 percent since 1998. Solyndra may have failed, but solar power clearly hasn’t.
Wind power’s share of the American energy supply has grown 123 percent in the past four years. In fact, since 2006, 36 percent of new electric capacity in the U.S. has come from wind energy alone. Globally, renewable energy now makes up almost 50 percent of the world’s new electricity, and the global market for clean energy is expected to reach $2.3 trillion within a decade. Renewables are good investments with none of the variable costs associated with traditional fossil fuels that lead to rising consumer costs over time.
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Despite this robust growth in renewable energy, our nation’s energy future is now at a crossroads.
Congress allowed the expiration of a critical growth-inducing grant program for solar energy in January. At the end of 2012, the wind-energy boom and associated manufacturing jobs are at significant risk if Congress allows the expiration of an important production tax credit.
Here is a glimpse of the ramifications: The wind industry expects to lose up to 37,000 domestic jobs due to the uncertainty created by the impending tax-credit expiration. The solar industry, which currently employs more than 100,000 Americans, is also being threatened by several congressional attempts to end subsidies. This is an industry with a 6.8 percent jobs-growth rate since 2010, far greater than the national average of less than 1 percent.
The nation’s energy crossroads is demonstrated clearly by our two presidential candidates: Mitt Romney, who envisions a fossil fuel-based future that compromises the environment — a short-term plan with short-term benefits; and Barack Obama, who plans a diversified energy future with a long-term vision — an “all of the above” strategy that moves us toward a more secure clean-energy future.
Renewable-energy supporters know that clean sources of power are not the only solution in the near term. Fossil fuels remain essential — without them, economic recovery and growth will be impossible. The key is for government and businesses to use our current abundance of fossil fuels as a bridge to an energy supply that is dominated by renewable, clean sources.
Energy diversification, starting right now, is critical to the nation’s energy security, our economy and, more fundamentally, our nation’s ability to meet future energy demand. Nearly every energy analyst supports this approach.
To do that, a combination of public and private investments, national and state clean-energy standards and other policies will be crucial. The fossil-fuel industry didn’t grow on its own; neither should renewables.
Ending critical incentives and investments for the budding industry, as many Republican candidates propose to do, would plainly ignore our nation’s future.
As election season nears we need to ask ourselves: Do we want to vilify, or instead support, an industry that is creating jobs, growing rapidly, and offering long-term energy and economic stability?
Former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson is in Seattle to address a business gathering. He chairs APCO Worldwide’s Energy & Cleantech practice and previously served as U.S. secretary of energy.