Thursday, July 14, 2011 | 2 a.m.
There is no doubt that the United States needs to find more sources of energy, and the country has the potential to lead in the development of renewable energy.
However, a report issued by the Brookings Institution on Wednesday found the nation has been hampered in its efforts by several challenges, including uncertainty over public policy. The report says the U.S. needs to be strategic about its investment in what the authors call the clean economy, the segment of the nation’s economy that produces goods and services with an environmental benefit. The country certainly needs to make green energy a priority to stabilize our energy future.
Over the past several years, the United States has fallen behind other countries and seen green energy companies lose market share to foreign competitors. The report notes that in 2004, the United States led China in investment in green energy, but by 2010 China’s investments had more than doubled the U.S. in investment.
It’s also worth noting that the clean economy in the United States employs more than 2.7 million people, more than the fossil fuel industry. As well, investment in green development has brought well-paying jobs that are 13 percent higher than the rest of the economy. About a quarter of the jobs are in manufacturing, compared with 9 percent of the rest of the economy, providing good jobs for a wide section of Americans.
The report suggests there is a strong market for green energy, saying it accounts for 16 percent of all U.S. venture capital.
But one of the keys, according to the report, is better policies to spur development of the industry.
“This is not an area where the public sector needs to get out of the way,” said Bruce Katz, vice president and director of Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program. “Government leaders, at all levels, need to get in the game. Otherwise, we will watch the rest of the world pull away from us.”
The report says that local, state and federal officials can have an effect by setting standards to promote energy efficiency and the adoption of renewable energy. Local governments can help speed up permitting and set building standards with energy in mind.
There’s also a need for governments to help with financing to encourage renewable energy, such as tax credits and loan guarantees.
At the federal level, some members of Congress have dismissed green energy and not supported programs that would help the industry, trying to protect the oil industry.
The development of renewable energy shouldn’t be pitted against fossil fuels. It’s not as if the nation’s demand for oil is going away overnight. Nonetheless, the U.S. would be foolish to forsake the clean economy.
That’s particularly true in Nevada, which has abundant renewable energy sources. According to the report, which studied 100 metropolitan areas, the rate of growth in clean economy jobs in Las Vegas outpaced that of the rest of the United States, and the median wage in those jobs was more than $10,000 higher than the median in other sectors of the economy.
As Steve Kanigher reported Tuesday on the Las Vegas Sun’s website, Las Vegas has one of the highest concentrations of green architecture firms and construction services in the nation. And one of the study’s authors suggests that Nevada could do more to market itself and build up the green industry here.
Given the economic suffering the nation has endured, it makes no sense not to make the clean economy a priority to not only revive the overall economy but also provide lasting sources of energy.