Washington can look to states for proof that investing in clean energy works

Washington can look to states for proof that investing in clean energy works
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The pandemic, and its cascading negative effects on our economy, and our people, have presented a novel opportunity to build new and better infrastructure, foster innovation and bring good jobs to Americans everywhere. That is the promise at the heart of the President BidenJoe BidenHow 'Buy American', other pro-US policies can help advocates pass ambitious climate policies Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by Raytheon Technologies — Biden backtracks on Taiwan Photos of the Week: Manchin protestor, Paris Hilton and a mirror room MORE’s Build Back Better budget being considered by Congress — a historic opportunity to put our economy on a path to greater prosperity for everyone while also supporting and accelerating the transition to 100 percent clean energy. 

Already, states like Georgia, Minnesota and Virginia are showing what is possible. These states are using energy efficiency and clean energy to cut greenhouse gas pollution, create family-sustaining careers for their workers and save consumers money. The Build Back Better agenda will turbocharge successes like these and bring new opportunities to Americans everywhere. 

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Georgia, for example, is leading the charge to ensure that affordable housing is also high-performing and healthy in order to keep bills low, reducing resident’s energy burden and ensuring that the housing stock is truly attainable for all residents. This is thanks in part to the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program administered by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. Affordable housing developments can receive tax credits by achieving a green building certification, such as the EarthCraft certification (developed by Southface Institute and others). Meeting these standards contributes to housing stability and equity and helps keep energy, water as well as health care costs down by supporting a healthy indoor environment while helping to reduce energy burden. Additional federal investment through Build Back Better would fund parallel programs that achieve the same critical impact on a significantly larger scale, ensuring a healthy and efficient environment for all Georgians inside their homes and out.

Minnesota also found bipartisan success in taking steps to increase energy efficiency. This year, the nation’s only divided legislature updated existing energy conservation legislation by passing a landmark bill that will create more options for utilities to help commercial and residential customers save energy and money. The measure provides millions more dollars for weatherizing homes, particularly for low-income households, resulting in greater savings and the creation of more jobs. This upgrade to a program that has already delivered $6 billion dollars in net benefits to the state, thousands of good paying jobs and a nearly 4-to-1 return on investment will be a game changer for thousands of Minnesota families.

Despite this success, there is still untapped potential in Minnesota. The private sector, labor unions and a strong nonprofit network are identifying new areas ripe for investment, such as building out Minnesota’s EV charging network. The $68 million Minnesota would receive from the federal government in the bipartisan infrastructure bill would go a long way to creating a strong charging network for the Midwest’s first state to enact clean cars standards. 

Energy efficiency isn’t the only area where states are showing what is possible. Last year, Virginia passed the Virginia Clean Economy Act (VCEA) making it the first state in the South to establish a 100 percent clean energy standard. The measure requires utilities to retire polluting power plants and replace them with renewable power, energy efficiency and storage.

The VCEA establishes binding energy efficiency targets and one of the largest energy storage goals in the country — creating market certainty and saving families and businesses money. The latest jobs report from Advanced Energy Economy demonstrates the economic benefits of the VCEA. As of the end of 2020, the advanced energy industry employed over 93,000 people in Virginia. Thanks in part to policies like the VCEA, clean energy business leaders surveyed for the report expect Virginia jobs to grow 8 percent this year. 

When fully implemented, the VCEA will create as many as 13,000 jobs in Virginia annually, generate millions in clean energy investment, and help the state transition to an affordable, reliable and 100 percent clean grid. The Build Back Better budget will accelerate and expand the change promised by the VCEA.

America is at a crossroads. Perched at the intersection of crisis and opportunity, we have a choice to make. Individual states have shown us what is possible, but ultimately, we must choose as a nation: Do we embrace the future and take control of all the possibilities before us, or do we sit on our hands and let circumstances dictate the world we leave our children? The Build Back Better agenda is a path to a more secure and prosperous place for all Americans. 

Gregg Mast is executive director of Clean Energy Economy Minnesota.

Shane Totten is vice president of programs, strategy and impact at Southface Institute in Georgia.

Harry Godfrey is executive director of Virginia Advanced Energy Economy.