Opinion

Renewable Energy Growth Is Surging and Boosting U.S. Economy

By Isak Kvam
March 20, 2018 at 5:00 am ET

A new report published this month highlights the rapid growth in renewable energy throughout the U.S. as the country moves toward a clean-energy economy. The 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook was produced by the Business Council for Sustainable Energy by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, and it’s chock full of good news for renewable energy, the U.S. economy and our low-carbon future.

The report found that renewable energy capacity in the U.S. soared to a record-high in 2017, while emissions from electricity generation shrank to their lowest levels in over 25 years. And the clean-energy industry isn’t just reducing emissions — it’s also investing billions of dollars in the economy and helping keep electricity prices low, too.

The wind industry delivered great results for the U.S. economy last year. Wind added over 7 gigawatts of new capacity in 2017, bringing the total U.S. wind capacity up to 89.1 GW, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Last year’s new wind farms represent $11 billion in new private investment. That’s a huge benefit to rural America, which hosts 99 percent of U.S. wind farms and reaps wind’s benefits through a new source of tax revenue, landowner lease payments for farmers and ranchers, and funding for community projects. Today, the wind industry employs over 100,000 Americans with steady, family-supporting jobs across the nation.

The 2018 Factbook also points out that corporate Power Purchase Agreements for wind projects have surged as wind has become one of the most affordable options for new electricity generation. Businesses aren’t just investing in clean energy to meet sustainability goals, however; they’re doing it to increase their bottom line.

“A key concept, for business, is that sustainability means doing more with less — less material, less cost, less pollution, less waste, and lots of other ‘lesses,’” said John Atkins, president of TerraShares, an organization that helps businesses invest in low-cost, clean energy. “Businesses invest every day in measures to reduce their cost; it’s what they must do to remain competitive.”

Investing in renewables doesn’t only provide businesses with cleaner energy — it reduces their monthly electric bills, which allows the business to reinvest those savings in itself to become stronger and more competitive.

Corporations aren’t the only ones taking advantage of wind’s low cost: Electric utilities are also investing in wind energy to save their ratepayers money. Look no further than Minnesota, where Xcel Energy Inc. recently announced a target of 60 percent renewable energy by 2030. Ben Fowke, president and CEO of Xcel Energy, recently stated that wind power will allow Xcel to keep electric bill increases at or below the consumer price index.

Clearly, wind power has been good for the U.S. economy and for ratepayers, and solar energy isn’t far behind.

As solar installations continue to grow — 7.1 GW of utility-scale solar projects were installed last year — the price of solar has also begun to fall. In fact, module prices have decreased 92 percent over the past decade as the solar industry boom has begun. That’s good news for the 250,000 Americans who work in the solar industry.

The solar industry has been a powerhouse for economic development. There are now over 9,000 solar companies in the U.S., which are spread across every U.S. state.

Renewable energy has become a force to be reckoned with, which is great for the economy, the environment and for ratepayers. Clean energy and energy efficiency support over 3 million American jobs. The costs of wind and solar are falling dramatically every year. Emissions from the power sector are at a 25-year low after falling 4.2 percent last year. And Americans are paying the smallest percentage of their income on electricity than ever recorded.

It’s not often that a solution to a complex problem has so many positive effects. The renewable energy industry is providing affordable, reliable energy for consumers and businesses in a rapidly changing environment, all while investing billions of dollars in the U.S. economy, and that’s something all Americans can support.

Isak Kvam is communications/policy associate with Wind on the Wires.

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