Renewable Energy Hits Its Stride

(#319)– Last week’s column promised evidence that renewable energy and energy efficiency projects can provide tremendous opportunities.

New York’s high cost of living and taxes are often cited as reasons for the slow development of renewable energy projects to replace the polluting, inefficient and vulnerable fossil fuel fed power grids.  Massachusetts, another high cost of living and tax state, is experiencing a different reality.  Just 5 years after passing a progressive energy program into law, Massachusetts has 80,000 people directly employed in the alternative energy industry. That’s twice as many jobs the fracking for natural gas industry has created in Pennsylvania and a lot more jobs than the 64,000 direct and indirect jobs created in North Dakota where ng fracking is all the rage.  5,557 companies now work in the clean energy economy of Massachusetts and a great majority of them report that high taxes and energy costs are not a barrier to launching new businesses or expanding capacity.

Of course, all of this is happening by design.  Massachusetts is well known for being a smart state, for its vibrant venture capital community and strong set of incentives for renewable energy and efficiency. Boston was recently designated the most efficient city in the United States.  It now monitors the energy efficiency in 40 per cent of its buildings and will soon roll out a strong climate resiliency plan to avert and save cost from storms that can in a single day destroy several hundred millions in property and damage the health of many thousands of people.

The first step for Sullivan County is to set climate change as one of the top issues of local budgets and governance. The County authorized a $7,500 appropriation to complete a draft set of key county goals in the Climate Action Plan through its Office of Sustainable Energy by the end of the year. A county interdepartmental task force has been set up to consider sustainable energy measures in county operations.  However, the draft of the new Comprehensive Economic Development Plan for Sullivan County will soon be published without inclusion of energy as an important sector of our economy and with a statement that renewable energy is simply too expensive to be a promising economic investment. Such a result coming from the list of county residents inter- viewed for input on economic development priorities indicates we are behind the curve of future smart growth.

As argued many times in this column, Sullivan County needs a different set of partnerships to avert climate change destruction and to achieve sustainable economic development.  We have sufficient local venture capital.  Financial, technological, private and public organizational talent is also sufficient.  We need to redesign our local economy through passage of new laws and involving the business community as major investors in private-public partnerships such as local power companies and special incentives for energy efficiency and renewable energy material and technology use.  The media could also help educate and inform by giving climate change and renewable energy issues higher priority.  After all, climate change is the biggest threat to human security. Renewable energy and efficiency yields profits, connects to all of our institutions and starts our communities in the direction of greater social responsibility.

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