While in Vermont last month, President Obama called for a "doubling down" in support of clean energy. Prior to taking the stage before thousands of Vermonters, he was introduced by Jeanne Morrissey, the head of a local contracting company. Most spectators were unaware that one of the last times Jeanne spoke in public she stood before a field of solar trackers and fought back tears as she explained how the project provided her workers employment, and enabled them to feed their families during tough economic times. (You can see it on YouTube.)
As Vermonters — citizens of a state that was just ranked No.1 in the country for “green jobs per capita” by the Labor Department — we've really got something to be proud of.
But Vermont's (and the nation's) growing renewable energy industry is creating far more than just "green jobs." When a solar tracker manufactured by our Williston-based company is installed, whether it's just one behind a house or 300 on a farm, an entire chain of activity is triggered: metal work from NSA Industries in St. Johnsbury and Northeast Precision in Lyndonville, components from Milton, cable assemblies from Rutland County, electrical boards from Grennon's Solder Works in Bristol. In an era where our economy seems to be offshoring virtually everything, we were recently able to on-shore circuit board assembly away from Taiwan and over to Image-Tek — a company based in Springfield, Vt.
And that's just on the manufacturing side. Our Vermont installers, Backspin Renewables, Solar Tech, Integrated Solar and Building Energy, are hard at work across the state selling and installing this Vermont-made product.
Companies like Sunward, a Vergennes-based solar hot water manufacturer, trigger an entirely different chain reaction of job creation during manufacturing of its technology.
Producing renewable, local energy with technologies manufactured literally in our backyard is in the very best of Vermont traditions. I think back to the idle sawmill that once churned away in my hometown of Calais. In its day, it was using clean, local energy to produce the products people needed. That's now again possible in the 21st Century.
Vermont was largely bypassed by the industrial revolution. We've struggled to keep up with the internet and wireless revolutions. We cannot afford to be left out of the clean technology revolution.
But to be clear, each and every state is competing for its own slice of the renewable energy pie. We've seen first hand the number of states that are fighting far more aggressively than Vermont to develop thriving renewable energy markets. If we don't get our policies right and encourage our own industries to grow, we will be left behind.
Here’s an example: last year groSolar — a successful Vermont-based solar energy company — sold its residential business to SolarCity, a national company. However, immediately after the sale SolarCity made clear it had no intention to do business in Vermont due to our limited solar market, which moved potential jobs elsewhere.
Another example is Burlington. A city of 42,000 people and arguably one of the country’s most sustainable cities, it has fewer than 40 net metering systems that produce as much as Hinesburg, a town 1/10th its size. Our policies need to be right or this clean energy revolution will pass us by.
So what can the legislature and Governor Peter Shumlin do before the end of this session?
We've got a choice. Policymakers have a choice. Vermont can manufacture clean technologies installed by local workers producing the renewable energy we need for decades. Or, we can let the industry of the 21st Century pass us by. Let's choose right.
Andrew Savage of Burlington is on the executive management team of AllEarth Renewables and is former Deputy Chief of Staff for Rep. Peter Welch.
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