Opinion

Clean Energy Incentives Would Bring Good Jobs to Maine

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People across the country are struggling to find and keep jobs due to what many have deemed the worst economy since the Great Depression.

Here in Maine, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the statewide unemployment rate for September was 8.5 percent. And although this is significantly less than the national average, roughly 20,300 fewer people across the state are employed than a year ago.

Yet research indicates that we now have the chance to create a new clean energy economy with job opportunities for people around the nation. Indeed, according to a recent study by The Pew Charitable Trusts, between 1998 and 2007, jobs in Maine's clean energy economy grew at a rate of 22.7 percent, while traditional jobs grew by only 3.3 percent.

The report, the first-ever hard count of the actual companies and venture capital investments that supply environmentally friendly jobs and services, found that, "green economy jobs" grew in Maine nearly seven times faster than the state's overall jobs between 1998 and 2007.

These are good-paying jobs for people at all skill levels and with an array of educational backgrounds. This includes jobs from machinists to engineers, with annual incomes ranging from $21,000 to $111,000. And Maine's clean energy economy is just getting started.

Part of the reason for the success seen here and in other states is the efforts of both public- and private-sector leaders to create new industries with enduring jobs.

Businesses such as Eastbay Company in Ellsworth are conducting home energy audits and addressing one of the most important facets of energy use in Maine – increased efficiency. The energy auditing industry is teaching people that "change" is not synonymous with "sacrifice."

Maine Green Building Supply in Portland is bringing the newest and best technology to the forefront so that solar installation companies can eventually perform the next step, helping to create a very energy efficient home.

These and other innovative firms in Maine are making important advances in the global clean energy economy.

Many of Maine's elected leaders, both in Augusta and Washington, have seen the potential for green economy jobs and are working to create a business climate for new initiatives to thrive.

Maine now provides financial incentives for clean energy production and in June 2006, the state adopted a goal to increase new renewable energy capacity by 10 percent by 2017.

Moreover, the U.S. Department of Energy recently announced an $8 million grant to the University of Maine for deepwater offshore wind research.

According to University of Maine Professor Habib Dagher, such a project could ultimately attract up to $20 billion in related investment and create as many as 15,600 jobs.

Yet, while the 2009 federal stimulus act allocated nearly $85 billion in additional direct spending and tax incentives for U.S. energy and transportation-related programs – including projects across Maine – more must be done.

According to a recent report by the China Greentech Initiative, the Chinese government has allocated 37 percent, or roughly $586 billion, of its recent economic stimulus plan to developing green technologies and renewable energy.

Already the leading solar manufacturer in the world, China also aims to overtake Japan in production of hybrid vehicles by 2011.

Unless leaders at both the state and federal level act now, however, America may find itself left behind.

At the state level additional incentives and policies are important steps. Yet we have only scratched the surface of green job development.

More effort is needed to spur potential job growth in Maine's clean energy economy.

Action also must be taken on a national level. Most notably, Congress and the Obama administration must work together to produce energy and global warming legislation that creates jobs, enhances energy independence and sustains our environment.

Research shows that investing in the clean energy economy can pay off. We have the chance now to choose policies and incentives that could provide thousands of people across Maine with new jobs, while at the same time protecting the planet.

We owe it to ourselves to take immediate and decisive action to ensure this opportunity does not pass us by.