Despite the lingering effects of the Great Recession, private investment in clean energy continued to rise in the United States in 2010, to $34 billion, up 51 percent from 2009. In many states, new clean energy jobs significantly outperformed job growth in the economy as a whole. More investment capital now lingers on the sidelines, waiting for consistent public policies that support clean energy.
According to a Brookings Institution report, the clean economy employs 2.7 million workers, across a diverse group of industries. Today’s clean economy businesses added half a million jobs between 2003 and 2010, expanding at an annual rate of 3.4%.
However, the United States is beginning to fall behind other nations in clean-energy investment. Until 2008, the United States led the world; now the the country is ranked third among G20 nations, behind China and Germany.
A new study by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that the high level of clean energy investment in China and Germany is not due to cheap labor. Instead, it is due to supportive energy policies. Both countries have set requirements for clean energy production and then implemented policies to support those goals. China, Germany, and more recently Japan, illustrate the critical role public policies play in accelerating the growth of clean energy jobs and businesses.
At present, some members of the U.S. Congress are proposing legislation to spur these investments. Current proposals include a national clean energy standard and a green-infrastructure bank.
Whatever happens at the national level, state and local policy will continue to play an indispensable role in the evolution of a new energy economy. Much of the authority to support clean energy development is controlled by state and local governments. From electric and gas utility regulation, to building codes that call for improved energy efficiency, to urban planning and transportation infrastructure, to local tax policies — states, counties and towns will lead the way.
Some states have already demonstrated the job-creating power of clean energy, including the exemplary efforts over the past five years in Colorado. Former Governor Bill Ritter made the development of a clean energy economy a central plank in his election campaign and a top priority of his administration. During his term in office, Governor Ritter signed 57 clean-energy bills into law. Among them was a requirement that Colorado generate 30% of its electricity from wind and solar technologies by 2020, one of the highest standards of its kind in the nation. Another bill established the nation’s first statutory plan to convert old coal plants to natural gas.Colorado was a state ready to embrace a new direction. As governor, Bill Ritter seized on that public desire and positioned Colorado for rapid change. Under Governor Ritter, Colorado built a New Energy Economy that created jobs, increased energy security and helped the United States stay competitive with a world moving quickly to adopt cleaner, renewable, and homegrown sources of energy.
Through policies, vision and action, Colorado has become a national leader in charting a new energy future. The Ritter administration’s policy innovations built markets for renewable energy and energy efficiency that made Colorado a magnet for companies ready to grow. Colorado broadcast its vision to the world, and recruited vigorously. Colorado signaled to researchers, entrepreneurs, executives and investors that the state supports their work, and that new energy companies can find a home in the Rocky Mountains.
Due in large part to state government’s support of a progressive business climate, Colorado has attracted 1,500 clean energy companies and now has the fourth-highest concentration of clean energy workers in the United States. The state’s clean tech sector has grown 16% and Colorado has become one of the nation’s principal beneficiaries of venture capital for clean technology. Governor Ritter says the state’s commitment to “reward imagination, innovation and ingenuity” is largely responsible for the fact that Colorado’s unemployment rate was two to three points below the national average during much of the recession.
“We have a story to tell in Colorado. We’re proud of that story,” Governor Ritter told a Washington, D.C., forum in the fall of 2010, near the end of his term. “We don’t think it’s the end of that story at all. It’s really only the beginning.”