To compete globally, clean energy industry needs a federal partner

To compete globally, clean energy industry needs a federal partner
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The current transformation in clean energy technology is nothing short of astounding. The industrial leaders of the 20th century can’t count on keeping their perch in the rapidly changing world we find ourselves in.

China alone accounted for nearly half of global clean energy investment and now they have their sights set on the rapidly growing electric vehicle market. Currently six of the big 10 electric car companies are Chinese and China is seeing the benefits. Air quality has begun to improve, their companies dominate the top 10 list of solar manufacturers, and they are making huge gains in wind, an industry traditionally dominated by Europe and the United States.

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It’s not surprising that leaders throughout the globe and politicians of both parties devote special focus to manufacturing jobs; not only do they yield good wages and increased economic access to the middle class, but the benefits of manufacturing jobs stretch far beyond the factory floor and once the infrastructure is built stable communities can develop. It’s why states work so hard to put together incentive packages to lure factories producing new technologies, a pattern we’ve seen many times in the last decade with clean energy technologies in Michigan, New York, Colorado, Nevada, and Tennessee. Unfortunately, when it comes to clean energy manufacturing the federal government is no longer a reliable partner.

 

The Massachusetts based company, 1366 Technologies, with their cutting edge technology to produce dramatically cheaper solar wafers (the building block of solar cells), should be an American success story. After developing their process with support from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and prominent venture investors, 1366 built a successful demonstration plant and was on their way to building their first full-scale production plant in upstate New York until the Trump administration’s retreat from clean energy pushed them overseas.

In addition to destabilizing markets by retreating from clean energy policies such as the Clean Power Plan and solar tax credits, the administration proposed to eliminate the Energy Department’s Loan Guarantee Program that had already agreed to finance construction of the first commercial factory. Now, not only will that plant — and those jobs — be built in another country, but the cost advantage of their American-developed technology will go to an overseas competitor.

This is a particularly strange time to retreat from the field in clean energy, as dramatic cost reductions are leading to an exploding global market. Workers and consumers are now beginning to reap the benefits of years of R&D, and we should be locking in our place in this competitive landscape.

For energy analysts, the response to Colorado utility Xcel Energy’s solicitation last year were earthshaking. For the first time, real world bids to build new solar and wind projects with storage are actually cheaper than operating coal plants. Yes, it’s cheaper to ratepayers for the utility to scrap coal plants that are already built in favor of building new clean energy projects. It’s a perfect win-win-win situation — new jobs to build the plants, with cleaner air, and cheaper electricity for consumers and businesses.

Despite being the product of bipartisan laws passed in 2005 and 2007, Energy Department loans have become vilified — but the benefits to U.S. manufacturing competitiveness are impossible to ignore. In the auto industry alone, tens of thousands of community supporting middle class jobs have been created in at least six states as factories were upgraded or built to keep American companies at the forefront of the global clean energy economy. These investments, capitalize on American innovations to create products that make the world a better place and allow the market winners to rapidly scale here, so we can reap the maximum benefit. What justifiable reason can there possibly be to drive these innovators overseas?

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.