Sheila McNulty US cleantech industry needs strong laws to boost renewables

A new study called, Job Impacts of a National Renewable Electricity Standard, conducted by independent firm Navigant Consulting and released by the RES Alliance for Jobs, has found that without stronger near-term targets than currently envisioned, industries like wind will experience flat job growth and long-term stagnation and the US biomass industry could collapse altogether.

This is yet another reminder that in the global cleantech energy race, the US industry needs government support to get anywhere.

Certainly a number of companies are making efforts on their own to increase energy efficiencies, build smart grid technologies, grow wind, solar and biofuels. But none of this is going to reach significant scale without government incentive.

In June 2009, the House of Representatives passed the American Clean Energy Security Act (Waxman-Markey), which would set a national Renewable Electricity Standard of 20 per cent by 2020 and allow up to 8 per cent of the standard to be met through energy efficiency improvements. Also in June, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the American Clean Energy Leadership Act with a target of 15 per cent by 2021, allowing up to 4 per cent of the standard to be met through energy efficiency improvements. But neither of these has moved through the necessary channels to become law. And the RES Alliance recommends before that happens lawmakers raise targets in federal legislation to 12 per cent in 2014 and 20 per cent in 2020

This latest study says a national Renewable Electricity Standard, requiring 25 per cent of all electricity come from renewables by 2025, would support an additional 274,000 renewable energy jobs – the equivalent of a cumulative 2.36 million job-years of work – over a no-national policy option. This total is also significantly higher than the expected jobs supported in the current House and Senate provisions under consideration in Congress. In the words of Don Furman, senior vice president for Development, Transmission and Policy at wind energy company Iberdrola Renewables:

A strong Renewable Electricity Standard is crucial to create a stable investment environment and grow this highly promising sector. Without a strong RES, the US wind industry will see no net job growth, and will likely lose jobs to overseas competitors. A target like 25 percent by 2025 would allow American wind companies to support double the amount of jobs than without a policy – about 125,000 additional jobs. That’s a gain our country cannot afford to pass up.

Perhaps, as with carbon taxing, the Obama Administration can find a way to impose such requirements without Congress. For, the way things look now, Congress is not prepared to take decisive action to create a clean energy future.