Clean Energy's a Jobs Powerhouse

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People across the country are struggling to find and keep jobs because of what many have deemed the worst economy since the Great Depression. A recent report indicates that we now have the chance to create a new clean energy economy -- one that can provide job opportunities and a bright future for people across the "Sunshine State.''

Here in Florida, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the statewide unemployment rate for September was 11 percent. This is the highest level of unemployment seen in roughly 30 years and officials estimate that the state has lost roughly 360,400 jobs over the course of 2009.

Yet, even in the midst of this deep recession, jobs like those in the clean energy economy are poised for growth. According to a recent Pew Charitable Trusts study, between 1998 and 2007, jobs in Florida's clean energy economy grew at a rate of 7.9 percent, while nationally total jobs only grew by 3.7 percent.

In the first-ever hard count of the actual companies and venture capital investments that supply environmentally friendly jobs and services, the Pew report noted that Florida is one of the nation's leaders in the new clean energy economy with more than 31,000 ``green economy jobs'' -- more than the population of Key West in 2007.

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

One reason for the success seen here is the efforts of both public- and private-sector leaders to create new industries with enduring jobs. Innovative firms like Altamonte Springs' Heliocol USA, Inc. (the nation's largest solar thermal systems distributor) and Fort Lauderdale's Enviro Voraxial Technology (which built the gyro housings for the Hubble Space Telescope) are making important advances in the clean energy economy.

Many of Florida's elected leaders have seen the potential for green economy jobs and are working to create a business climate for new initiatives to thrive. The state created an Energy Systems Consortium in 2007 to leverage clean technology expertise across Florida's public universities. And at the local level, Gainesville is the first city in the nation to allow consumers to sell self-generated power back to the local utility.

Moreover, the Obama administration recently announced a $200 million grant to Florida Power & Light and six other state businesses to help improve the efficiency of the nation's electricity network. Yet, while the 2009 federal stimulus act allocated nearly $85 billion in direct spending and tax incentives for U.S. energy and transportation-related programs -- including other projects in Florida -- 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 U.S. leaders act now, America may find itself left behind.

At the state level, additional incentives and policies are important next steps. We have only scratched the surface of green job development, and more effort is needed to spur potential job growth in Florida's clean energy economy.

Action must be taken on a national level as well. 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 Floridians 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.