How a new generation of clean energy workers can help us build back better
As a native Floridian, I start my mornings with a freshly-squeezed glass of orange juice. And thanks to a distribution network, millions outside of Florida enjoy the same at kitchen tables across America. Now, as we strive to rebuild our economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic, we should make it just as easy for households to access another essential commodity: renewable energy.
America has abundant sources of wind and solar energy, including in the Sunshine State. Thanks to decades of innovation, solar and wind power are the most affordable ways to power homes and businesses. Clean energy generates zero-emission electricity, which means it can reduce carbon pollution and help us solve the climate crisis, but the lack of infrastructure is holding us back. We can change that, and power our homes and businesses on abundant, lower-cost renewables.
Just as a generation of workers built the interstate highway system, a new generation of clean energy workers can rebuild our economy by expanding renewable energy and creating a national macro grid. According to new research by Americans for a Clean Energy Grid, these efforts would benefit consumers, workers, and the environment in tangible ways, as we help Florida and the rest of America achieve its climate goals. By investing in the grid and enacting strong carbon policy, the new report shows that Florida could see an increase of over 900 percent in electric sector jobs over the next 30 years.
Clean energy has enormous potential beyond the Sunshine State. In fact, 15 states between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River account for 88 percent of America’s wind potential — and more than half of America’s large-scale solar photovoltaic potential. Building a macro grid can help rural communities boost their local economies and create much-needed jobs, as they export wind and solar energy to bigger cities.
Building out the macro grid east of the Rocky Mountains would unleash up to $7.8 trillion for investment, save consumers over $100 billion in energy bills, and create more than 6 million domestic jobs, according to this new research. Through the right investments and solutions, we could reliably generate over 80 percent of our electricity from wind and solar by 2050, which would go a long way in providing every American with cleaner air.
The new research also shows how transmission infrastructure makes the grid more reliable, which can allow wind and solar to meet electricity demand in every five-minute period of the year, even as they provide 82 percent of our electricity in 2050. Don’t believe the critics who claim renewable energy is not reliable; with improved transmission, we can couple wind and solar to meet the vast majority of America’s needs.
Increasing wind and solar generation is also a win for Americans and their pocketbooks, as it can lower the average electric bill by more than one-third and save a typical household more than $25 every month. Homes and businesses can expect even more savings if electricity consumption increases due to growth in electric vehicles and electric heating.
Beyond the economic opportunities, investing in clean energy will also protect existing industries, including our citrus industry in Florida. For the past several years, Florida’s agricultural sector has been hit hard by climate-fueled extreme weather, which puts workers and local businesses at risk. The changing climate has also exacerbated the spread of diseases that lead to major crop losses. Solving the climate crisis can help these industries and improve public health for all Floridians, by reducing or even eliminating harmful air pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. Some of these pollutants have been linked to an increased risk of death from COVID-19, especially in economically-disadvantaged communities and communities of color. A clean energy future can help remedy this.
As chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, I’m passionate about finding common-sense climate solutions to help our country move forward. We can create the jobs we need to bounce back and leave a better planet for future generations, all while saving families money on their bills and protecting small businesses. Building a clean and resilient macro grid is at the center of our plan for solving the climate crisis. Over the coming decades, we can make renewable energy available to every American household — just like the juice of the delicious Florida orange.
Castor is chairwoman of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.