Clean energy bill ensures job growth and sustainability

by Randy Wilde

Artwork courtesy of staff artist Melodie Lapot

Seniors slated for graduation are all sweating from the same word: jobs. It’s hard for us not to worry when California’s unemployment rate has been hovering around 12 percent or more for the past 17 months. These days it’s impossible to escape the debate surrounding how to best create jobs in these uncertain economic conditions. Every politician claims to be fighting for jobs and any policy they oppose is labeled as “job-killing.”

Such was the rhetoric surrounding Proposition 23 on last November’s ballot. Approval would have suspended the section of California’s landmark global warming bill, Assembly Bill 32, which sets greenhouse gas reduction goals. Despite enormous financial backing from Texas oil companies, voters soundly defeated the proposition. Even if you’ve been convinced climate change is some kind of leftist conspiracy and peak oil and increasing energy prices are a passing trend, there is still one big reason to support alternative energy sources: jobs. Now, more than ever, Californians are starting to realize the economic benefits of developing alternatives to fossil fuels.

The November victory gave me renewed hope in California’s future. A recent California State Senate bill takes the issue of clean energy another step forward. Joe Simitian’s Senate Bill 2X, which passed by a comfortable margin on Feb. 24, set rules for an ambitious goal: require utilities such as San Diego Gas & Electric to generate one third of its power from alternative energy sources by 2020.

An even more hopeful sign: Several Republicans crossed party lines to support the bill. One of these pragmatic senators was Sharon Runner, who represents the High Desert area north of Los Angeles. Runner explained, “A majority of my district gets 350 days of sunshine every year and lots and lots of wind.” The legislation promises to bring much-needed work to her district. Even many Republicans, who often label environmental legislation as “job-killing,” recognize the incredible potential of similar solar and wind operated energy industries as job creation engines.

Research from the Pew Charitable Trusts shows job growth in the clean energy industry has been significantly higher than the overall economy for the past decade. The study also found that as of 2007, 10,209 California businesses had brought in almost $7 billion in venture capital for the state. A more recent survey by California’s Employment Development Department placed clean energy jobs at 500,000. These figures place California at the forefront of the emerging clean

energy economy.

And there is still vast untapped potential in the industry. To support clean energy is to support a brighter future for California’s economy. Many analysts predict tremendous growth and point out the need for education in key disciplines to prepare students for jobs related to clean energy. Scientists, engineers, technicians and workers from many other fields will increasingly require special education to enter the clean energy workforce upon graduation. It’s up to us to create the jobs of the future.

Legislation such as AB 32 and SB 2X are vital to the continuation of growth in an otherwise abysmal job market. A balance of economic incentives and regulations can help California hold onto its clean energy leadership and tap into the industry’s massive potential for economic revitalization. Countries such as Germany and China may be way ahead, but it is not too late to take part in the clean energy renaissance.

In the end we must decide whether we want to protect an industry in decline or embrace one on the rise. Although there may be some short-term losses associated with any transition, it’s time to give up the “job-killing” accusations and embrace the future. Even oil companies have started to invest in alternative energy sources. There’s no reason we can’t invest in developing the necessary demand, infrastructure and education to fully explore our most promising opportunity for growth.

—Randy Wilde is an international security and conflict resolution junior.

— The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec.