Renewable energy jobs on the ballot

Renewable energy jobs on the ballot
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If I asked you the most important state for renewable energy, what comes to mind?

Is it California? You can make a good case for CaliforniaHeadline-grabbing electric car, battery, and solar manufacturer Tesla is based there, along with an incredible array of Silicon Valley-funded startups racing to lead the global clean energy revolution.

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Whether its solarbatterieselectric vehiclesefficiencysmart grid, or water technologies, California companies are in the mix and they are making incredible advances. Policymakers in California have worked hard to put regulatory frameworks in place, from electricity to transportation, that send clear signals to industry about what challenges they’re expected to meet and continue to innovate and adjust as necessary to keep the momentum going. But California is a big place with a massive economy — and all the advantages (and some complications) that entails.

 

Let me make the case for a state that may not have immediately come to mind as a renewable energy leader — Iowa. Since passing its first-in-the-nation renewable portfolio standard law in 1983, Iowa has quietly built itself into a renewable energy powerhouse.

Despite being in the middle of the pack in land area, Iowa has cultivated a leading-edge clean energy industry that far belies its modest size. It may not surprise anyone that Iowa leads the nation in biofuel production by a healthy margin, but it is also second in the nation in wind energy production. I’ll reserve for a future column the interesting case of the top-ranking wind state, Texas, which most people associate with only fossil fuels.

The story of Iowa and wind is worth telling. Iowa has an undeniably great wind resource, but it’s far from alone in that regard. In fact, with modern turbine technologies, most of the country has tremendous resources, enough that Iowa doesn’t particularly stand out.

The difference is that policymakers in Iowa were some of the first in the country to identify the tremendous potential they had in the rapidly growing clean energy economy and have embraced the future with farsighted policies that straddle the political divide.

That foresight has transformed both of their major utilities into major wind developers — with one of them, Warren Buffett’s MidAmerican Energy, committed to providing customers with 100 percent renewable power by 2020. This means nearly another $1 billion invested in Iowa just from its most recently announced project and all the construction and maintenance jobs that stem from it.

As former Republican Gov. Terry Branstad noted, the renewable industry has delivered “high-quality, good-paying jobs that are helping grow family incomes across this state.” When asked about the 100 percent renewables proposal, current GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds lauded the plan to “bring sustainable and affordable energy” to Iowa.

Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst are conservative steadfast supporters of renewable energy. They are reflecting the overwhelming will of their voters. With renewable energy playing such a huge part in Iowa’s economy, they rightly recognize it would be political suicide to adopt the Koch Brothers anti-renewables talking points. 

The 2020 campaign begins the moment the midterms are over, and attention will turn to Iowa. Energy jobs in Iowa are clean energy jobs (with efficiency included, they outnumber fossil energy jobs about four to 1, and are growing, unlike fossil energy jobs), and renewable electricity will almost certainly demand the kind of support that biofuels demands in the state.

And it doesn’t stop with Iowa. Voters throughout the Midwest are seeing the opportunities in renewable energy and are pressuring their representatives to get on board. In fact, it’s one of the few unifying issues among voters across the political spectrum. 

Republican politicians have spent years running against “California values” in their campaigns, and have falsely claimed renewable energy is expensive and only popular with coastal liberal elites. Iowa, with its Republican governor and U.S. Senators, has shown that trope to be wrong. 

Candidates in 2020 can run on a robust clean energy platform, starting with the first caucuses, by promising to push the United States to become “more like Iowa.” Perhaps today too few people know the success story of clean energy in Iowa, but as we approach the high-profile 2020 campaign, we’re sure to hear a lot more about it. Iowa has a compelling story to tell about the opportunities in the new clean energy economy, and it just might be a story much of the country is ready to hear.

Mike Carr is executive director of New Energy America. He previously served as principal deputy assistant secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and as senior counsel on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.