Our nation’s economic history is marked with technological advancements that have revolutionized our economy and helped make us one of the wealthiest nations in the world. But our recent reliance on the financial and real estate sectors combined with a continued decline in manufacturing has left our economy in a recession unseen in decades.
[IMGCAP(1)]To regain our footing and return our nation to a path of sustainable economic growth, we must spark a clean energy revolution that will create millions of new jobs and grow the middle class. Americans are eager to build the clean energy economy of the future, and one of the easiest ways to make that happen today is through the establishment of a strong renewable electricity standard.
Three years ago, I led a bipartisan coalition to pass the first-ever RES in the House. The first piece of legislation I introduced as Senator would set the strongest RES ever proposed in Congress, a standard for large utilities to generate 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources and conservation by 2025. President Barack Obama has repeatedly called for our nation to meet that achievable goal.
A growing majority of states in every region of the country have established renewable standards, including New Mexico, Missouri, North Carolina, Maine and Montana. In New Mexico, our state RES has brought investment and jobs into the U.S. from overseas, such as the German-owned SCHOTT Solar manufacturing facility in Albuquerque earlier this year.
The House and Senate have both passed RES legislation separately in past years, but they failed to come together at the same time. This Congressional session will be different. The House passed an RES in May, and thanks to Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approved an RES for the first time. While these proposals do not reach 25 percent by 2025, both serve as a solid foundation, and I encourage all Senators, Republican, Democrat and Independent, from every region, to work together to pass the strongest RES possible.
There are many reasons to support this plan. It’s good for consumers — a 25 percent standard could save utility customers $64.3 billion. It will strengthen rural communities and provide new income for our farmers and ranchers who are currently vulnerable to volatile and imported fossil fuels.
Renewable electricity also improves our energy security by making our electric grid more robust. It would also reduce our dangerous dependence on imported fossil fuels, which empowers our enemies and directly threatens our national security. Experts such as James Woolsey, former head of the CIA; Robert McFarland, former national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan; and Adm. Thomas Moorer, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, support a federal RES.
Perhaps most importantly, a national RES will create hundreds of thousands of high-paying manufacturing and installation jobs. A typical wind turbine includes more than 200 tons of steel, and solar photovoltaic energy generates more jobs than any other energy source.
Other countries are seeking world economic leadership by creating clean energy industries. With a population roughly one-quarter as large as America’s, Germany has more than twice as many workers developing wind energy technologies. Germany is also the world’s largest producer of solar power, despite its location at a latitude equivalent to Alaska. Spain has almost five times as many workers in the solar thermal industry as America. China has more than 300 times as many.
America cannot afford to let another country become the world’s green energy leader. The CEO of GE Energy testified before the Senate that “wind and solar energy are likely to be among the largest sources of new manufacturing jobs worldwide during the 21st century.— The question is whether these jobs will be in America.
To be clear, our climate policy cannot rely only on a federal RES; rather a federal RES is a strong complement to a comprehensive federal climate policy by making greenhouse gas reduction targets more affordable and easier to achieve. We will need a suite of tools to enable Americans to take control of their energy future and prevent global warming, and a strong federal RES is one of the most effective tools at our disposal.
America has always succeeded by being one step ahead. We mass-produced the car, and American manufacturing built the middle class. We sparked the information technology revolution, and our high-tech industry fueled American prosperity for years. Today, being one step ahead means developing the clean energy economy of the future before our competitors.
The payoffs of an RES are huge: a stronger economy, a more secure energy future and a chance to reclaim world economic leadership — by the force of our example and the unmatched innovation capacity of our people.
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) serves on the Commerce, Science and Transportation; Environment and Public Works; Indian Affairs; and Rules and Administration committees.