Earlier this year, I was invited to the White House to discuss the impacts of climate change on small businesses and the positive effects of implementing the Clean Power Plan. I know this topic isn’t as entertaining as the election mud-slinging and therefore doesn’t generate the media buzz, but let me tell you about what I learned. I hope to hear this in one last speech before voting day.
I learned that very few members of Congress — or anyone else — has actually read the Clean Power Plan (CPP). Granted, it’s not a page-turner and it’s not 140 characters or less, but let me quickly summarize some key points:
- CPP provides a national set of strategic policies intended to reduce air pollution and the emission of climate change-causing gasses.
- Assuming the pending state lawsuits are rejected, states will be required to reduce their pollution 32 percent below 2005 levels, but that’s split up over 15 years, so 2 percent to 3 percent per year is not that challenging, right? Right. The technology already exists to accomplish this goal.
- States can come up with their own plan to comply with CPP, so it’s flexible. States can use solar, wind, hydro, energy efficiency or a combination of clean energy to get rid of our old polluting power plants.
Some of my Indiana and Michigan friends and local representatives say that the plan creates unnecessary regulation, and that it will cost jobs and raise electricity prices. Those assumptions are just assumptions.
The official CPP factsheet explains that the U.S. will see $20 billion in climate benefits and $14 billion to $34 billion in health benefits, and post a total net benefit after any extra costs of $26 billion to $45 billion. In other words, the plan will act as a kind of stimulus for the national economy.
In terms of jobs, lawsuits against CPP only create more jobs for — you guessed it — lawyers. To generate more middle-class jobs, let’s put the lawsuits aside and focus on upgrading our aging grid infrastructure and building new clean power generation facilities. Most U.S. coal plants are retiring anyway.
The solar industry has already proven itself to be a jobs engine. As of November 2015, the solar industry employed more than 208,800 solar workers, representing a job growth rate of 20.2 percent since November 2014. By the end of 2016, solar is expected to grow another 16 percent to nearly 240,000 workers.
Imagine how many more non-lawyer jobs would be created for solar, wind, energy storage and energy efficiency if states drop their lawsuits and implement CPP?
CPP also allows states to decentralize utility power plants. Thousands of moderately sized solar power plants, smartly paired with energy storage battery banks, could be built closer to communities across the country. Such a CPP-based strategy would help stabilize the grid and spread construction and operational jobs across entire states, especially in the Midwest and South where commercial- and utility-scale solar installations have largely lagged behind-the-solar expansion seen in the Southwest and Northeast U.S.
Opponents are also not considering the manufacturing jobs that will be created. There are already several solar and wind factories in Indiana, Michigan and Georgia. If we begin to implement the CPP and start building gigawatts of wind and solar projects, manufacturers will want to expand their operations into the many empty warehouses and shuttered production facilities scattered across the region. Moreover, new cleantech companies will also set up innovation hubs in order to meet the regional demand.
In a few years, the Rust Belt could be transformed into the Solar Belt.
As for the belief that solar and other renewables raise electricity pries, I can say that our company has built or is building utility solar power plants in Michigan, Indiana and elsewhere that are competitive with the long-term cost of building and running a fossil fuel plant. In the coming years, solar and wind will become even more competitive with conventional energy and will continue to drive down the cost of consumer electricity.
While the candidates are focused on email servers, building a wall, locker room talk and why each is worse than the other, the U.S. continues to see unprecedented flooding, drought and wildfires. Let’s get back to substantive concerns that will truly affect jobs, the air that we all breathe, and the future of our country.
Even if we can't do that in the final days of the election, let's hope the next president will.
TJ Kanczuzewski is the president of South Bend, Indiana-based Inovateus Solar. He is the 2016 recipient of the Outstanding Young Business Leader award from the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce, a husband, and a father of two children.