Clean energy works in red states, blue states – and on military bases

 

Staff Sgts. James Bacallo, left, and Joseph Gallegos analyze blueprints for an F-16D Fighting Falcon canopy seal longeron repair. Both are depot structural maintenance specialists from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Luther Mitchell Jr.)

Staff Sgts. James Bacallo, left, and Joseph Gallegos analyze blueprints for an F-16D Fighting Falcon canopy seal longeron repair. Both are depot structural maintenance specialists from Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Luther Mitchell Jr.)

By Jeff Benzak

President Obama is in Utah today where he’s highlighting the bipartisan nature of clean energy job growth and the important role the U.S. military plays in training the next generation of highly skilled private-sector workers.

As a national nonpartisan business group that’s been working on these issues for more than a decade, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) is excited the President chose to highlight clean energy jobs on a busy Air Force base located deep in a red state like Utah.

Here’s one reason why: Strong state-level renewables policies – coupled with market signals sent by commonsense federal policies like solar energy tax incentives – have helped vault Utah into the Top 10 in E2’s recently released 2014 clean energy jobs report. As the Clean Power Plan takes shape, it’s expected to send its own strong market signals that will help further expand the clean energy sector in Utah and beyond.

Utah finished ninth in the nation in our report. Joining Utah near the top of our rankings were four of the six sunny states it borders. Not surprisingly, solar was the major driver of Utah’s recent growth. In the past year alone, the Beehive State has been buzzing with activity, installing about half its cumulative solar capacity. In Utah, solar is now at grid parity with coal.

Recent projects announced in Utah towns like Parawon and in counties like Iron and Beaver are expected to employ more than 1,500 workers. Think about that for a moment: 1,500 new clean energy jobs from just three projects located in the rural southwestern corner of one deeply red state.

Clearly, when it comes to clean energy job growth, partisan politics should play absolutely no role at all.

In fact, as E2’s executive director Bob Keefe pointed out in the fall, clean energy jobs nationwide are growing almost exactly evenly in both Republican and Democratic districts. Bob tells us that across the U.S. in 2013, E2 tracked 124 clean energy job announcements in Republican-led districts. How many in Democratic districts? The exact same number – 124.

And who are the well-trained workers building out the ever-growing number of clean energy projects all across the U.S.? That’s where the President’s decision to talk about clean energy job growth at Hill Air Force Base comes in – and why that location makes so much sense.

As E2 has noted, the military’s own substantial investments in clean energy means veterans enter the private sector as some of clean energy’s best-trained workers. But don’t take it from me. Read these recent clean energy jobs op-eds penned by veterans in Virginia,Tennessee,Florida and Maryland, or watch these videos to hear what a former Navy SEAL …

or a current Navy officer have to say about it:

As Steve Rutherford, another retired Navy SEAL and E2 member who served in Afghanistan and now owns a solar company in Florida, said, he’s not surprised veterans are excited about clean energy. He gave three big reasons why:

  • Steve’s fellow veterans witnessed firsthand how our fossil fuel dependency has resulted in staggering costs to our nation in both lives and dollars. Steve said veterans know protecting warzone fuel supply lines is a deadly serious business, resulting in as many as 1,000 casualties in Iraq alone. They know that for every $1 increase in a barrel of oil, the Pentagon spends an additional $130 million annually.
  • Second, the Department of Defense has made developing and deploying clean, renewable sources of energy a top priority. Whether the 40-kilowatt solar arrays Steve acquired, tested and fielded at Forward Operating Bases outside Kandahar in 2010, or the money-saving energy efficiency measures at domestic installations, the military is quickly transitioning toward a clean energy future, teaching our military men and women the skills that clean energy businesses increasingly demand.
  • And the third reason why veterans find clean energy appealing is because they’re good jobs, plain and simple, Steve said. According to 2010 data from the Brookings Institution, the estimated median wage in Utah’s clean economy is more than $36,000, nearly $2,000 higher than the average job across all sectors of Utah’s economy.

As leaders at all levels of government consider clean energy policies before them, it’s worth remembering that the private sector and the military are leading the charge toward our clean energy future. As President Obama knows, it doesn’t matter if you live in a red state in the Rockies or a blue state in the Northeast – the fact is that clean energy works for America.

Jeff Benzak is E2’s press secretary. He can be reached at jeff@e2.org.