Energy is the driving force in our economy and world today. And as important as it was to our country just a few years ago, it’s even more important to its livelihood and growth now.
As a former congressman from South Carolina, I was able to learn first-hand about the critical energy issues that face our nation. We are now at a crossroads. Either we continue romanticizing about the bygone days, or we embrace innovation and lead our country down a path of resource security and economic prosperity with solar energy.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel all over the world on mission trips and with congressional delegations. From the Middle East to Africa, global populations are, by necessity, latching on to the opportunity to use distributed solar energy for reliable, safe and less expensive power.
I am inspired and humbled by these trips. Seeing people embrace innovation and resourcefulness reminds me of some of the great things that our blessed country was founded upon. That’s why I joined forces with other like-minded conservatives to create the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition (PCSC).
While PCSC was founded in South Carolina, our message carries far and wide. We are a group of conservatives dedicated to removing barriers to businesses by applying free-market principles that support a growing solar industry.
And if you haven’t spent much time in the Palmetto State lately, let me tell you that this solar movement is real. In only a few short years, solar has created nearly 3,000 jobs for South Carolina. Nationally, solar now employs more than 260,000 people — growing 12 times faster than the rest of the U.S. economy — and that number will continue to grow.
Oh, and by the way, these are good-quality, local jobs that cannot be outsourced.
Residential rooftop solar paired with net metering — which gives consumers credits for excess power that is returned to the electrical grid — offers an opportunity for our country’s rapidly aging grid.
Just think about it. The more energy homeowners are creating directly from the place it will be used, the less need we’ll have for distribution and transmission infrastructure, better known as poles and wires. And as batteries become cheaper and more efficient, folks will begin to store the energy they create to help curtail daily spikes in energy demand. That’s less demand on our already stressed energy grid and more reliability and efficiency from a new way of doing business.
The U.S. is on a path to replace an estimated 70 percent of its utility infrastructure but demand for energy is flat. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on unnecessary new power plants, let’s blow the market wide open to innovation and competition from cleaner, more efficient energy sources like customer-owned solar.
But let’s look beyond the technical and economic arguments for supporting solar for a moment and consider the political reality we as Republicans face. We have an opportunity to immediately grow our base and attract new, young voters, while continuing to embrace the conservative principles that have guided us all along.
We are confronting attacks from utility monopolies that are opposed to the freedom and savings rooftop solar panels provide homeowners. At its core, the discussion is about innovation and the new versus the old way of doing business.
Energy choice is much like Republicans arguments on school choice. It’s about the free market and competition. It’s about independence. It’s about fighting for a better future.
Energy choice and solar energy independence are attractive concepts to large swaths of voters across this country. It has the power to help unite, excite and hopefully grow the Grand Old Party into something new, fresh and future-focused. Just look at the data. Roughly nine out of every 10 voters, both Republican and Democrat, support more solar energy.
These opportunities give us a chance to be a part of something greater than ourselves. That’s what public service is about and that’s why I have dedicated my life to it.
Don’t look at solar energy as simply another power source — look at it as energy independence and American ingenuity. Look at the solar industry as a way to create meaningful jobs and give people new opportunities to better their lives.
For conservatives and our entire country, it’s no longer possible to deny one of God’s greatest gifts — the sun.
Gresham Barrett (@GreshamBarrett) is founder of the Palmetto Conservative Solar Coalition (PCSC). He is a Republican and a former U.S. Representative for South Carolina.
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