The following guest post is actually a month old. Unfortunately, it was passed on to me by the author while I was in the midst of an extreme health crisis. But the article (reposted from AL.com) is what we might call an “evergreen” article. It tackles one of the most important cleantech topics as good as any such article that I think I’ve read. Read on, enjoy, and share this with your friends!
By Pat Byington
It has been eight months since Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh was elected president of the Alabama Public Service Commission over Lucy Baxley. But last week, I was reminded of her election and the important position she holds when I saw one of her last remaining “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” political signs hanging on a telephone pole outside Birmingham near an off ramp onto I-65.
During the election, some people complained about the jobs slogan right above Cavanaugh’s memorable first name.
“What does that have to do with the Public Service Commission?” people asked.
I agree with Ms. Cavanaugh. The PSC and our state’s energy policies have everything to do about jobs – especially clean energy jobs in Alabama.
It is the future. And if Alabama doesn’t start getting its act together and start developing energy policies that foster the growth of clean energy industries, we will miss out on hundreds if not thousands of good paying jobs.
For example, this spring without much fanfare, Walmart’s President and CEO Mike Duke announced at the company’s Global Sustainability Milestone meeting that by 2020, the world’s largest retailer will be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy. [CleanTechnica editor’s note: Walmart actually has a goal of being supplied 100% by renewable energy by 2020. It’s not a guaranteed commitment, but a clear goal.] Walmart will accomplish this commitment by increasing the amount of renewable energy (solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, etc.) it procures by 600 percent over 2010 levels.
Along with its renewable energy goal, Walmart is committed to reduce the energy needed to power Walmart buildings by 20 percent compared to 2010 levels. Based on Walmart’s own external estimates of projected energy costs and other factors, the two commitments are anticipated to generate more than $1 billion annually in energy savings once fully implemented.
“More than ever, we know that our goal to be supplied 100 percent by renewable energy is the right goal and that marrying up renewables with energy efficiency is especially powerful,” stated Duke in the company’s press release announcing their 2020 commitments.
Walmart touches every community large and small in Alabama. Do we have the energy policies in place to meet Walmart’s commitment to renewable energy and efficiency by 2020? Are we prepared to capture and develop this new market or does Walmart have to go elsewhere, outside Alabama to develop renewable resources and meet its energy efficiency goals.
In the South, we’ve seen what happens when a state takes the clean energy plunge.
Just ask Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen how important clean energy industries are to their state. In the past five years, while most states were hemorrhaging jobs, Tennessee recruited and landed several solar manufacturing businesses. This past January, the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga finished the construction of the largest solar farm for an automotive plant in the United States. The farm, which consists of over 33,000 solar panels, will provide 12.5 percent of the VW’s electricity needs when the plant is making cars, and 100 percent of their energy needs when the facility is offline for seasonal re-tooling.
Solar energy is a job creator in Tennessee and it has bi-partisan support. The difference between Alabama and Tennessee when it comes to supporting solar energy is as stark as “night and day” or should we say “jobs and no jobs.” According to the Solar Foundation’s Solar Jobs Census, over 1,900 people in Tennessee have solar jobs. In Alabama, we have 210 solar jobs statewide, dead last per capita in the nation. Tennessee has 142 solar industry companies. Alabama has a paltry 22. Tennessee has more than 3,800 “solar homes.” Alabama has less than a hundred homes powered by solar energy.
And nationally, the success stories go on and on. Apple is building a $1 billion data center, one of the nation’s largest data centers of it kind in rural North Carolina. Why? Because it will be 100 percent powered by renewable energy — solar and biogas. The Indianapolis Airport is installing the largest solar farm for a U.S. airport to date. The city of Kansas City is installing solar panels on the roofs of 80 different public buildings. The Philadelphia Eagles Football team’s Lincoln Financial Field is going to be powered by windmills and solar panels. Even NASCAR is getting into the act, with the biggest renewable energy stadium project in the world at the Pocono Raceway in Pennsylvania.
Next week, PSC President Twinkle Andress Cavanaugh will be conducting the second informal public meeting to discuss utility rates and Alabama’s energy future. And hopefully, we won’t have a repeat of the first meeting, when it turned into a finger pointing and name-calling exercise where words like “radical environmentalists,” “treehuggers” and “polluters” defined the discussion.
It’s time for the PSC to focus and develop state energy policies that will resonate in the boardrooms of Walmart, Volkswagen, Apple and countless businesses large and small that are committed to clean energy. It’s time we begin to talk about jobs, jobs. jobs.
Pat Byington, is a former vice chair of the Alabama Environmental Management Commission, publisher of Bama Environmental News (http://bamanews2.blogspot.com/) and editor of The Green Register (www.thegreenregister.com).