Looking for Political Common Ground? Try Clean Energy.
Americans overwhelmingly support wind and solar, a rich source of good-paying local jobs. Policymakers should provide a level playing field.
Louise Helton built her rooftop solar-power business in southern Nevada from the ground up. Over the years, her team of a dozen installers has helped hundreds of households and businesses directly benefit from clean energy, and today the state's 6,500 solar jobs are a bright spot in Nevada's economy.
Helton's success is driven, in part, by the strong demand and overwhelming popularity of her product. Nine out of 10 Americans support renewable energy, according to a Pew Research Center survey, and poll after poll shows that solar and wind, and the policies that support them, have deep support across the political spectrum. Research even shows that a strong majority of voters, including majorities of Republicans and independents, would vote against politicians who oppose solar.
The clarion call to governors and legislators is clear. They were elected and entrusted to represent American values and to foster prosperity and growth. While that mandate may prove challenging in today's deeply partisan landscape, energy derived from the sun and wind offer a well-trodden path to common ground. Lawmakers and constituents of all political stripes recognize that renewables represent values that Americans hold dear -- economic freedom, resilience and an investment in a healthy environment -- along with the promise of economic progress.
There has never been a more opportune time to champion clean, renewable energy. Thanks to plummeting costs over the last decade, it has experienced a boom that has broken records everywhere, regardless of which political party holds power. The cost of solar has dropped by more than 70 percent since 2010, and a new report from the financial firm Lazard found that solar is now cheaper in many parts of the U.S. than fossil options like coal and gas.
That's a reality that's not lost on some of the country's largest utilities. Xcel Energy, with three and a half million customers in Colorado, the Dakotas, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Texas and Wisconsin, recently announced plans to go 100 percent carbon-free by 2050. Xcel's CEO said that the company is "encouraged by advances in technology" and "motivated by customers who are asking for it."
And in November, Northern Indiana Public Service Co. said it will completely phase out coal over the next decade. The utility's president called the plan "consistent with our goal to transition to the best cost, cleanest electric supply mix available while maintaining reliability, diversity and flexibility for technology and market changes."
That momentum, driven by the competitive economics of renewables, is taking shape faster and in more places than most people realize. While Democratic strongholds like California and New York make headlines with laudable clean energy goals, some Republican-controlled states are also among the nation's leaders when it comes to wind and solar development.
Falling costs and transpartisan support by voters and lawmakers alike are propelling one of the most promising sectors of the nation's economy. Renewables are among the U.S.'s fastest-growing industries, and today Louise Helton is one of more than 350,000 workers who clock in to solar and wind jobs. Last spring, the Bureau of Labor Statistics forecast that the ranks of solar installers and wind turbine technicians -- local jobs that can't be exported -- will grow "much faster than the average for all occupations" in the coming years.
Clean energy has made enormous progress since its early days as the "alternative" to conventional fuels -- and we haven't even scratched the surface. The power sector remains one of the oldest and most entrenched industries in desperate need of modernization, and forward-looking state lawmakers have a unique opportunity to remove barriers and encourage a level playing field for modern technology.
Building a thriving clean-energy economy hinges on a willingness to work across the aisle toward common goals: good-paying local jobs, revitalized economies and healthy communities. The American people elected governors and lawmakers to do just that.