Time to Choose not to Spill or Explode

Candidates, Voters: Time to choose your energy future

It was all about the future of energy at an event at the Center for American Progress here in DC Friday morning when CAP released their  new report:  “Regional Energy, National Solutions:  A Real Energy Vision for America”.  NWF authored the Midwest  and Southeast chapters of the report.

Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline runs under the straits of Mackinac. Photo: MDOT Photo/Video Unit
….But even as the virtual ink on our press releases was drying, oil prices were fluctuating as news broke that due to “anomalies” oil pipeline giant TransCanada was briefly shutting down the huge Keystone pipeline that carries tar sands heavy crude from Alberta, Canada to US refineries in the Midwest and Oklahoma (this is the pipeline we have already, not the additional “Keystone XL” pipeline that is proposed).  Also breaking was another report “Sunken Hazard” out of NWF’s Great Lakes Regional Center in Michigan raising concerns over the safety of the Enbridge pipelinethat runs under the Great Lakes at the straits of Mackinac.  Enbridge was responsible for the nation’s largest inland spill into the Kalamazoo river in Michigan in 2010.

Meanwhile, back at the event,  speakers including Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, described a diverse national clean energy strategy, built on the powerful energy, manufacturing and technology assets of regions across America.  Speakers and the report contrast this diverse clean energy plan to the American Petroleum Institute’s “Drill Baby Drill” vision: more oil and other fossil fuels.  Period.   That vision is conveniently simple.  The impacts, less so.

Fossil fuels play a large role in today’s economy, but we now know that the energy that powered the last two centuries comes with a side dish of volatile prices, environmental, health and safety risks, and it speeds climate change -which, by itself, threatens our economy, security, and sustaining the natural world for our children.

Fortunately, as Friday’s report describes, the energy world has changed.  Today we have a wealth of large scale opportunities that take energy, our economy, and the future of wildlife and our outdoor heritage forward together.  

Large scale clean energy implementation is happening across the country. Graphic: Center for American Progress
Today,  making plans that extend and even aggravate the worst energy trade offs –  drilling in far more risky locations or expanding our reliance on tar sands oil – a heavy crude significantly more polluting that traditional petroleum – is no longer necessary or even prudent.  And it’s crazy as the centerpiece of a strategy for the future.

 Or, as NWF climate policy director, Joe Mendelson, said about last weeks pipeline “anomalies”:  “The best approach to our energy challenges isn’t building more pipelines, its embracing clean energy solutions that don’t spill or explode”

So whats really happening out there?

As we show in the report, states and regions all across the country are proving that they can prosper by implementing new energy technologies at scale. They show that a diverse national clean energy strategy anchored on strengths of the whole nation can build hundreds of thousands of jobs, and revitalize our economy. These solutions are real  and they may include some surprises:

  • Offshore wind is the only utility-scale energy resource abundant enough to contribute substantially to the sustained, long-term energy demands of the Atlantic Coast region. Developing just 54 gigawatts of offshore wind in Atlantic waters would generate $200 billion in economic activity and create 43,000 permanent, well-paid technical jobs, in addition to displacing the annual output of 52 coal-fired power plants. (these regional bullets excerpted from CAP’s press release, and fact sheet)

NWF’s own recent report The Turning Point Atlantic Offshore Wind Energy underscores these results and emphasizes the diverse economic opportunities for states from Maine to Florida from robust adoption of offshore wind.  NWF was happy to join Clean Energy States Alliance who authored the Atlantic coast chapter of today’s report on their release.

Building the next generation of fuel efficient vehicles.  Photo: Sam VarnHagen/ Ford Motor Co.
Clean energy economic growth, however, isn’t only built on regions’ clean natural resources such as wind or sun to deploy new forms of energy generation at large scale.  Growth is also built on regions’ human capital, industrial infrastructure,  manufacturing expertise and innovation to meet rapidly growing domestic and global demand for far more efficient technology in a resource constrained world.

  • In addition to revitalizing American manufacturing, the deep oil savings from vehicles now being built in the Midwest under strong new fuel economy standards mean net savings to consumers of more than $54 billion a year in 2030 and will add 570,000 jobs to the economy.
In the Midwest and nationwide, we have seen smart fuel economy and carbon pollution standards, plus strong and effective public-private clean energy investments in manufacturing and  innovation, speed a revival of the auto industry and boost manufacturing as a whole.  That transformation has added more than 230,000 jobs over the past 3 1/2 years while bringing consumers innovative and exciting new vehicles, big savings,  and historic cuts in oil use and carbon pollution.
  • The Southeast boasts more firms across the high-tech smart-grid value chain than any other region and continuing to lead this transition offers the opportunity to create diverse job opportunities. At the same time, if [through enhanced efficiency], the region were to cut energy use across the region by 16 percent in 2030  consumers would see an annual savings of $71 billion and 520,000 jobs by 2030.
Meanwhile, the Southeast stands to lead as the massive electric utility sector modernizes worldwide.  The region has an early lead in developing and manufacturing the hi-tech equipment critical to maintain reliability, boost efficiency, and connect new forms of energy to the grid.  With a strong efficiency and clean energy policy framework that drives domestic adoption, US businesses and jobs could power a global transformation in electricity, while also bringing homes and businesses the benefits of the 21st century
  • In the Gulf Coast region, each $1 million in investment in ecosystem restoration can create as many as 36 jobs across a huge range of occupations and skill levels—more than equivalent investments in traditional infrastructure projects.
  • The Mountain West boasts nearly unlimited renewable energy resources and these nonhydro projects, either under construction or in advanced development, represent 71,872 jobs. A study by Headwaters Economics found that from 1970–2010, nonmetropolitan counties in the West that had more than 30 percent protected federal lands increased jobs by 345 percent. Nonmetropolitan counties with no protected federal lands saw just 83 percent growth.
  • The solar industry in California has experienced significant growth over the past 15 years. Since 1995 the number of solar businesses grew by 171 percent, and total employment jumped by 166 percent. As a point of comparison, the total number of California businesses has grown by 70 percent and employment increased by 12 percent.

These examples are not the only promising clean energy opportunities for the given regions, nor have we covered all the regions or promising technologies for the nation. But they clearly show a wealth of win-win energy opportunities in front of us that deliver to communities,  industries, and the environment across the country.  America’s energy strategy should start there.