Clean energy advocates too seldom make the case that “going green” at home will strengthen our economic freedom. Many conservatives even assume renewables and economic freedom are at odds with each other.
Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes was right when he famously called liquid natural gases “freedom gas.” It is true that clean energy, such as natural gas, is bringing freedom to people around the globe by providing them with a diverse and affordable source of clean energy.
We can truthfully extend Menezes’ creative language to renewables, as well: freedom wind, water and solar. An increasing dominance of renewable, clean energy sources across the United States is allowing freedom to ring right here at home this summer.
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In southwestern Virginia, an area often associated with coal production, many are struggling financially as the jobs that the industry once brought have faded in recent decades. President Donald Trump’s attempt to revive coal country is not delivering.
Too many Virginian coal communities are stuck in the past and still no better off than they were before. A new initiative, however, by the Solar Workgroup of Southwest Virginia promises to rejuvenate the local communities by introducing renewable solar power energy.
The group plans to start by installing a set of solar electric projects throughout the region that could generate as much as 1.5 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a small community. American companies in negotiations to do the installation — Richmond-based solar installation company NCI, Acorn Electrical Specialists from Tennessee, and Rockbridge Energy of Georgia — have all made a commitment to hire and train local workers as solar installers.
Projects like this not only put money back in the pockets of local Virginians, but will help them save money over the long term as this source of renewable, clean energy drives prices down while keeping doors open on businesses and lights on for families.
In Nebraska, and other midwestern states, wind farms are providing a new source of stable income for farmers whose crop yields can vary widely and unpredictably. The Omaha World-Herald reports that wind energy “is transforming low-income rural areas in ways not seen since the federal government gave land to homesteaders 150 years ago.” As much as 99 percent of wind energy is produced in rural counties across the country, and the lease payments to local farmers are expected to rise from $250 million in 2018 to as much as $900 million by 2030.
The incredible truth of this story is that for the first time in history, renewable energy sources are producing more electricity for Americans than coal. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported that renewables such as hydro, wind, solar, biomass and geothermal have generated more electricity in the months of April and May of this year than coal-fired resources. The report calls this a “tipping point” and says that renewables hit this milestone faster than predicted.
This renewable reality would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago. Until recently, it was inefficient and expensive to fund wind and solar industries, and over-subsidizing these industries didn’t make economic sense. That’s not the case today, though. Conservatives should embrace the transition to renewable energy development, if only on its growing affordability alone.
The reality — and promise — of clean and renewable energy today is that it will bring freedom to Americans as well as the rest of the world. Clean and renewable energy is creating new jobs where old ones were lost, driving prices of electricity down where other costs of living rise, and continuing to power the freedom that is the birthright of all Americans while doing more to protect our environment. From hydro in the Pacific Northwest to wind farms in Nebraska and solar panels in Virginia, clean energy is keeping America beautiful and letting freedom ring.
Dr. Michael K. Dorsey is a member of the Club of Rome & co-founder of the Sunrise Movement, a movement of young people uniting to stop the climate crisis.
Sarah E. Hunt is the co-founder and CEO of Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy.
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