Truly, this is one of the questions that should be on the table when considering Congressional (in)action re climate change and clean energy options. Over the past decade, as US jobs flew out to other countries, with workers all too often spending their last months/weeks/days on the job training foreigners how to use equipment and then packing that equipment up to be used in a foreign factory, "clean energy' has been a bright spot -- with increased and increasing employment in manufacturing a(long with installation) of a wide range of clean energy systems.
Looking forward, in the face of peak oil and climate change and other energy issues, this is perhaps the economic arena most clearly to have future growth.
Last year, the US wind industry surpassed coal mining in terms of total employment for the first time and, even with the economic crisis, the gap is increasing as wind heads toward surprising the total employment in the entire coal sector.
Last week, the Blue-Green Alliance added (yet) another solid report (download) to the table showing the high payoff in terms of employment (on top of all the other beneftis) from getting serious about clean energy.
Putting in a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) of 25 percent by 2025, as per candidate Obama's campaign pledge, would mean the creation of 850,000 manufacturing jobs, alone, at existing firms across the United States. (Without even discussing the potential of new firms, new technologies, and the potential of a booming export market on top of US requirements.)
On top of the serious benefits of improved health for all Americans, reducing our damaging impacts on the environment in which we all live, reducing our dependency on limited fossil fuel resources, and improving our national security through more varied and more resilient power systems, the basic fact is that clean energy creates more jobs per $ invested than is the case with polluting energy options.
In a situation where we face economic, employment, security, and environmental crises, looking for that win-win-win-win space that helps address all these challenges through creation of opportunities would seem to be a no-brainer.
In face of such self-evident and extremely well-documented multi-faceted values of investing in a clean-energy future, we face a 'political reality' that too many members of Congress seem intent on bidding the system down to an ever-lower and ever-less meaningful RES levels. The Waxman-Markey ACES has been whittled down to 20 percent RES by 2020, with 5 percent (and even more) to be from "energy efficiency". TheSenate energy bill is whittled down to perhaps 15 percent, with provisions to make even lower levels of actual clean energy production acceptable at meeting this target.
To start with, these levels are already below what most states in the Union already have in their own plans, let alone what plans are emerging (for example, the not-necessarily clean energy friendly Creigh Deeds, Democratic candidate for Gov, calling for 22 percent RES by 2022; Hawaii has a target of 70 % by 2030) across the nation.
Secondly, these sorts of levels fall short of what is likely to occur even without any national standard. By 2012, in part due to the investment stream from ARRA (the Stimulus Package), non-hydropower renewable energy will likely top five percent of generated electricity. To hit the 25 x 25 target would require about 18.5 gigawatts / year of biomass, geothermal, wind, solar, and other renewable electricity installations: about double what was installed in 2008. In other words, the 25 x 25 target requires increased installations from what is already occurring, but nothing herculean in a market space seeing double-digit growth in production year-in, year-out.
Let us be clear, that 25 percent by 2025 target is unambitious and far less than what we should be targeting. It would, however, set the US on a path toward greater investment and focus on renewable energy.
Instead of having a Congress filled with people asking "how can we lead America into a better and stronger position"? Instead of having a Congress dominated by people asking "how can we increase good jobs for Americans through boosting our manufacturing sector", we have a Republican minority intent on drilling and digging our way deeper into an economic, energy, and environmental morass. And, sadly, too many Democratic members myopically focused on enriching their rice bowl or their contributors rather than focusing on what is best for America and Americans.
This should not be such an uphill battle. Clean energy is a win-win-win-win strategy. Instead of carving out a path toward a prosperous, climate-friendly America, the path pursued by too many in Congress leaves one wondering: Why do so many in Congress hate American manufacturing?