North Carolina has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. While our official unemployment numbers put us roughly in the middle of the pack compared to other states, at 12.2 percent, it is still far too high. It’s time for our elected officials in Washington to step up and confront this problem head-on.
Fortunately, we’ve seen that Congress and the administration are able to accomplish big things when push comes to shove, having already passed a series of economic stimulus packages aimed at helping workers and businesses. Now, federal lawmakers must take that same initiative to spur new job growth in order to help get people back to work. They should start with one of the most promising economic sectors our state has to offer — clean energy.
As the executive director of Conservatives for Clean Energy North Carolina, I can attest to the fact that investing in renewable and clean energy development is not only the right thing to do for our environment, but it also provides significant economic and employment opportunities. The renewable energy industry provides $14.2 billion of revenue annually in North Carolina and 57 counties have benefited from $1 million or more in such investments.
Prior to the economic downturn, North Carolina boasted more than 94,000 wind power, solar power and energy efficiency jobs. In terms of solar power alone, we rank 11th in the nation for jobs and second for installed capacity — and there are nearly 300 solar energy companies operating within our state’s borders as of last year. These are powerful figures that lawmakers should take into account as they consider ways to accelerate our economic recovery.
In recent years, conservatives in our state have taken a leadership role in expanding clean energy options. A recent poll by Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions (CRES) revealed that two-thirds of Republican and Republican-leaning voters agree making investments in clean energy is important to rebuild the economy, and three-quarters of respondents support federal action to accelerate the development and use of clean energy in the United States.
We’re lucky that North Carolina has conservative leaders in Congress that are leading on this issue, like Sen. Thom Tillis, who wrote a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in July that called for “policies that will bolster jobs and innovation across the clean energy economy including renewables, nuclear, carob capture, efficiency, advanced transportation and energy storage” to be included in stimulus measures.
Tillis and other members of the North Carolina delegation have plenty of other legislative options to consider for supporting the clean energy sector. For example, two bipartisan bills in Congress, America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act (ATIA) and the American Energy Innovation Act (AEIA), could be quite effective in reigniting economic growth and spurring job creation.
ATIA would help streamline federal approval of clean-energy infrastructure projects, helping lower carbon emissions, increase carbon-capture capabilities, and fund sustainable energy projects. Meanwhile, AEIA will help bring domestic energy laws into the 21st century to ensure America remains a global energy leader while investing in clean energy production to protect public health and our environment.
Moreover, lawmakers could also include tax mechanisms to help spur clean energy projects and job creation. Expanding on clean energy tax credits has already proven to benefit both the clean energy industry and taxpayers alike.
Jobs and economic stimulus provided by investing in and developing our clean energy resources provides an invaluable opportunity to invest in our workers, our communities, and our industries. This sector has been one of the fastest-growing economic sectors over the past 10 years, and that growth is expected to continue at least another decade according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
I hope and trust that our leaders in Washington will continue building on the conservative legacy by working to advance an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy that includes investments in clean and renewable energy production.
Laurie Barnhart is executive director of Conservatives for Clean Energy North Carolina.