The Clean Economy Network of Greater Washington, D.C. recently hosted a panel discussion on the state of the clean energy economy with Mark Muro of the Brookings Institution and Ethan Zindler of Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Solyndra, the California solar panel manufacturer that received a $535 million Department of Energy loan guarantee and recently filed for bankruptcy, was discussed. The two experts defended the DOE Loan Guarantee Program as being vital to encouraging American innovation and competitiveness in the global clean energy market. They both agreed that if the government is going to be in the game then there will be other losers and that accepting risks is critical.
They also said there is too much weight on loan guarantees and that there has to be a comprehensive clean energy policy in this country with things such as a carbon price and clean energy investment bank, similar to the national infrastructure bank that is included in the American Jobs Act winding its way through Congress.
According to Muro, since 2003 the clean energy sector has created 2.7 million direct, full-time jobs. That is more than the fossil fuel industry’s 2.4 million jobs. More than 1/4 of the clean economy jobs are in manufacturing and there are two times more export earnings per job than the rest of the economy. Also, more than 2/3 of clean economy jobs are middle wage and middle skill.
Muro laid out the basic framework for what he termed the “Next Economy.” This new economy will be export and innovation driven with lower carbon. It will also be rich with opportunity.
Will we continue to prop up 20th century industries like oil and coal or will we start playing catch-up with China and other nations and support 21st century industries like solar and wind? The panelists made a compelling case for the United States to move towards a clean economy.