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Published January 29, 2008 09:56 AM

Economy, Planet in Trouble: Green Energy to the Rescue?

With a tipping point in climate change maybe a few years out, perhaps triggered by the soon completely melted summertime Arctic ice cap, we’re probably well past the point where a semi-market-based-only approach to cutting greenhouse gas emissions, like cap-and-trade, will do any good. Government needs to step in.

Among the measures that can be done now is to continue to build emission free renewables while dramatically cutting back on power consumption, so that new fossil power plants don’t need to be built until carbon sequestration technology can be implemented. There needs to be some political leadership to put direction in the climate saving effort.

Fortunately, globally, renewables as well as efficient energy have built up a considerable head of steam. Concerns over oil supplies, concerns over global warming, and in many places government mandate and government assistance for green energy have been driving the industry forward, gaining traction and momentum for a number of years now. The green energy sector has been hot, creating jobs, new business opportunities, new wealth, improved technologies and new inventions all while helping to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

But, a global recession could throw the whole industry off track. The industry needs constant investment and, to keep costs competitive, some help from government.

If demand drops in a recession investment won’t be as appealing because of a slow financial return. Long term government support of renewables and efficient energy technologies would give investors confidence that the sector is here to stay and worth investing in.

A joint statement of the National Hydropower Association, Geothermal Energy Association, Solar Energy Industries Association, American Wind Energy Association says this about the economy and the industries they represent:

“As leaders of four major renewable energy trade associations, we respectfully urge bipartisan Congressional Leadership and the President to work together to include renewable energy tax provisions in any economic stimulus legislation currently being developed . 

“2007 was a record year for renewable energy in the US. Almost 6,000 megawatts of new renewable energy came on line in 2007, infusing over $20 billion of investment into our economy. And along with this investment came jobs. In 2007, the renewable energy industries put Americans back to work, creating tens of thousands of high quality jobs in all 50 states. Jobs like electricians and plumbers, line workers, roofers, engineers, and high-paying manufacturing jobs. These jobs are the backbone of our economy in the US

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“But already these jobs and many more are at risk. The 2007 energy bill was passed in December with much fanfare, but without an extension of the renewable energy tax credits. Already we are seeing sales and new project announcements drop off. Large scale solar and wind projects take longer than a year to site, permit and construct. And with only 11 months to go before the credits expire, these projects have started drying up. Even larger concentrating solar, geothermal and hydro projects take many years to construct and will not get built without a long-term extension of the tax credits.  If the renewable energy tax credits are allowed to expire, we will lose hundreds of thousands of jobs here in the US.”

Well said.

A renewal of the tax credits would help as well as a new round of tax breaks for everything from heating and cooling equipment to hybrid cars. Green energy, its industry, climate change and the economy are already connected, but the connection has to go deeper and be made a public issue. The presidential candidates could help in this regard.

There are job opportunities everywhere in the sector from brave souls that climb to the top of wind turbines to keep them maintained, to consultants who offer wise advice on how to save kilowatts, to marketing professionals that make sure consumers are aware of the latest products, to assembly line workers who put together solar panels.

And, of course for the most savvy in the business, there are profits to be made.

Washington, don’t let this industry fall apart. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for the planet. Support it. Embrace it.

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