A green economic recovery package from Congress will allow America to shape its financial and energy future.
By investing in energy efficiency, renewable energy and a modernized electric grid, we can assert America's leadership in the emerging clean tech global economy — and create millions of new jobs.
Other countries are already in the starting block of this great green race that will bring enormous financial reward to its winners. Asia and Europe are home to the world's largest solar and wind turbine manufacturers. Japan's per capita consumption of energy is nearly half that of the United States. President Barack Obama sees this, noting shortly before he was inaugurated that other countries "are surging ahead of us, poised to take the lead in these new industries."
Strong green financial incentives in the recovery plan can put Americans back to work, provide a foundation for a new, clean economy, decrease our country's dependence on foreign energy sources, and help defuse the worst impacts of climate change.
Consider energy efficiency, the "lowest hanging fruit" for creating shovel-ready jobs, improving company bottom lines and slashing global warming pollution. While many efficiency activities have a positive return on investment, financial and organizational barriers often stand in the way of implementing these projects. Investments in building retrofits, home weatherization and rebate programs, coupled with policies such as a national Energy Efficiency Resource Standard, will help remove those barriers.
Such incentives would be a win-win for many U.S. businesses. Upfront investments we collectively make today will yield long-term financial benefits in the years to come. Companies such as Nike, Timberland and Sun Microsystems, which have focused on reducing energy use across their U.S. facilities in recent years, will achieve even greater efficiency gains. What these companies do at home can also be transferred to their manufacturing facilities and other cogs in their extensive global supply chains. For companies like Nike, which is already working with overseas contract factories in Asia to cut their energy use, the potential cost savings are huge.
Incentives for renewable energy can achieve similar benefits. More renewable energy projects would dot the American landscape if investors had loan guarantees and a commitment to extend existing production tax credits for renewable energy. As innovation and economies of scale reduce costs, large-scale wind and solar projects will become more viable for big-name consumer companies, including Starbucks and Levi Strauss & Co., that are already using renewable power and are eager to buy — or even build — more.
A plan to kick-start the "smart" power grid should also be part of the stimulus bill. Just as the Internet is a global platform for innovation around information, business and entertainment, our grid must be a national platform for innovation in generation and consumption of clean energy. Unfortunately our antiquated system cannot meet our current demands, let alone the needs of a greener America.
It has serious efficiency problems. If the energy grid was only 5 percent more efficient, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would be equivalent to taking 53 million cars off the road. The current grid is also ill-equipped to provide effective transmission of renewable energy. Building thousands of miles of new transmission lines will make it possible to move electricity from wind farms and solar fields in the Plains, West and Southwest to consumers across the country. Finally, the grid lacks the capacity to support emerging, clean technologies such as plug-in electric vehicles.
With the right direction and boost from Washington — including legislation later this year to limit greenhouse gas emissions — American business can take a lead role in the global clean energy future.
On his first day in office, Obama acknowledged the nation is at a rare crossroads, where the right choice leads us forward to strength and prosperity. For businesses, workers and the nation, it's the green road that is the path for the future.
(Originally published in Roll Call)