Clean energy rising

Significant increases in clean energy investment are occurring and this is an incredibly positive trend for addressing climate change and growing the U.S. economy. Last year was a record year for clean energy development worldwide, with $329 billion of global investment in clean energy technology projects and projections are pointing to even greater investments in 2016.

Maryland’s solar energy industry is a perfect example of the job growth potential in clean energy. According to industry sources, in September 2015, Maryland had 177 solar energy companies that employed about 3,000 people. Six months later, Maryland is home to 182 solar energy companies, employing more than 4,300 people.

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It is now high time for Congress to act to better align U.S. energy policy with the actual direction of the private sector.  A good place to start is for Congress to acknowledge the urgent demand for clean energy in the U.S. and encourage the goal of generating more than 50 percent of our electricity from clean and carbon-free sources by 2030. 

We have introduced “50x30” resolutions in the House and Senate to set this goal.  Based on current technologies and our current energy trajectory, this goal is completely reasonable and should be central to our domestic policy agenda.  Importantly, setting a clearly defined goal will encourage greater private sector investment, lead to more innovation and secure U.S. leadership in advanced energy technology, flattening the climate change curve. The benefits will be enormous for public health, national security and our economy. 

Pollution from fossil fuel combustion causes respiratory problems, neurological damage and cancer. These costs are estimated to be somewhere between $361 billion and $887 billion each year. Currently, air pollution from fossil fuel power plants is estimated to cause more than 5 million missed workdays a year and has made asthma the leading cause of absenteeism from school. 

Rising temperatures are increasing the range of disease-spreading insects to new parts of the globe. A warming global climate raises serious concerns about the likelihood that an outbreak of a major mosquito borne illness, like the Zika virus, could likely occur in the United States. A 2015 study found that climate change was already contributing to increased salmonellosis in Maryland.

Our military and national security advisors consider climate change a “threat multiplier” that could severely strain our military capabilities. Economic instability breeds political instability, which puts Americans at risk.

Rising sea levels will displace tens of millions of people around the globe, potentially creating a refugee crisis much larger in magnitude than the tragedy we are currently witnessing in Syria. In Bangladesh alone, tens of millions live in coastal regions that are extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. By 2040, it is estimated that there will be twice as many refugees displaced in Bangladesh as in Syria. Closer to home, the Chesapeake Bay communities of Smith Island and Tangier Island could be two of the first U.S. communities displaced by the effects of climate change.

Economically, the number of manufacturing, construction, maintenance and other related clean energy jobs will greatly outpace those of fossil fuels, providing demand in the labor market for years to come. With amazing advances in technology, American scientists and engineers are making clean energy cost-competitive with fossil fuels.   According to a 2015 report from the Global Green Growth Institute and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization, the cost of wind power dropped 61 percent over the past six years, while the cost for solar dropped by 82 percent. Costs will keep falling and soon clean energy will be cheaper across-the-board.

With the right goal in place and strong demand from the private sector for investment and solutions, Congress can craft public policy solutions to create the proper incentives. A good first step was the renewal and extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for wind energy and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for solar energy, which provides near-term certainty and incentives for renewable energy development. But there is more to be done. Democrats have put forward proposals to increase clean energy investment and production, price carbon, improve energy efficiency, fund federal research in clean energy innovation, and improve the regulatory landscape. There is bipartisan support for many of the concepts and policies.

The bottom line is that if we don’t address climate change now, the cost to our country will be enormous. If we do address climate change by investing in clean energy, we will reap huge benefits. Passing our resolution would put Congress on record supporting the production of more than 50 percent clean and carbon-free electricity by 2030 and prioritizing the achievement of this incredible opportunity to protect our country improve our health, grow our economy, and lower energy costs for American households.

Cardin is Maryland’s junior senator, serving since 2007. He sits on the Environment and Public Works; the Finance; the Foreign Relations; and the Small Business and Entrepreneurship committees. Delaney has represented Maryland’s 6th Congressional District since 2013. He sits on the Financial Services Committee.

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