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Californians Mark the Ballot for Renewable Energy

In what is being considered the largest public vote on clean energy policy in U.S. history, Proposition 23 was defeated yesterday by approximately 60 percent of California voters. Proponents of climate law AB 32, which would have been suspended if Proposition 23 had passed, are saying this sends a clear message to state and federal leaders that even during a major economic downtown in a state with one of the nation’s highest unemployment rates, voters want a clean energy future.

Wade Crowfoot, West Coast political director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said the defeat of Proposition 23 is an undeniable win for renewable energy. “Californians actually recognize that the clean energy economy is expanding around them. Voters didn’t buy scare tactics that somehow clean energy costs jobs.”

 Opposition to Proposition 23 came from beyond the realm of typical clean energy supporters, garnering support from Republicans, including California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz, and Democrats, including President Barack Obama, California Senator Barbara Boxer and Attorney General Jerry Brown. Hundreds of businesses rallied to oppose the proposition, from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses, including the organization Small Business California. Other California organizations in opposition to Proposition 23 included the American Lung Association in California, California Professional Firefighters, AARP, California Nurses Association, the California Democratic Party, National Venture Capital Association, the California Solar Energy Industries Association and California Wind Energy Association.

“This proposition saw opposition from everyone from military leaders to religious leaders,” Crowfoot said.

 While Proposition 23 was aimed at California’s unemployment rate, opponents of the proposition said it would have jeopardized the jobs of over 500,000 Californians employed in renewable energy, a rapidly growing job market. Since the implementation of AB 32, California has garnered over $9 billion of private investment capital, a market that a ‘yes’ on Proposition 23 would have been endangered, said rivals of the proposition.

“The defeat of Proposition 23 tells Congress that the largest state in the Union that represents the eighth largest economy in the world is a cornerstone of economic recovery, and that Californians view clean energy as part of the solution,” Crowfoot said.

Tom Rooney, president and CEO of SPG Solar, said California has become a “consistent, predictable market for solar,” and the passing of Proposition 23 could have derailed that stability. While Rooney was on a trip to China two months ago, he met a solar developer who was planning on building a $100 million solar facility in California after deciding that California was the most durable solar market in the U.S. and globally. Rooney said the passing of Proposition 23 would have caused global solar companies developing in the U.S. to second guess themselves about the market stability.

He said that solar is a huge bolster to economies worldwide, particularly Germany. However, countries like Spain that have dabbled in solar, only to later change renewable energy policies, “have waffled.”

The defeat of Proposition 23 shows that the average Californian is aware of the benefits spurred by renewable energy, Rooney said.

“Voters are figuring out that investing in renewable energy equals job creation, fiscal responsibility, energy independence and environmental benefits.”

While Proposition 23 may have given some California renewable developers a scare, Rooney said that in the end, it benefitted renewable energy. “Proposition 23 got people talking about renewable energy, and if the grassroots’ population is talking about an issue, enormous power comes out of that.”