The staff heads of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), Geothermal Energy Association (GEA), National Hydropower Association (NHA) and Biomass Power Association (BPA) held a news conference to applaud the strong development of renewable energy in the USA last year, but emphasised the need for Congress to swiftly enact key policies which will accelerate growth across the entire sector by adding jobs and boosting economic growth, while also ensuring energy security.

If key policies are not enacted, the renewable energy sector could face a downturn in investment and jobs this year, they warn.

Among the measures they want Congress to pass are a “strong national renewable energy standard (RES) with clear near- and long-term goals,” as well as expansion and extension of credit incentives, and comprehensive legislation that will maintain US competitiveness and attract tens of billions of dollars of investment in renewable energy production and manufacturing facilities.

Industry comments

“The RES is the best way to provide the certainty that companies need to expand wind manufacturing nationwide,” says AWEA's Denise Bode. “The importance of building a strong renewable energy manufacturing base in the US cannot be overstated; the US has a historic opportunity to fortify  the clean energy economy but is committing unilateral economic disarmament by not giving itself the policy tools to do so.”

“One of the fastest ways to create jobs in America is to invest in clean energy; these are quality jobs and they can’t be outsourced,” adds SEIA's Rhone Resch. “From plumbers to electricians to construction workers, the solar industry created nearly 20,000 jobs last year with the support of the stimulus bill. We proved that we can create much-needed job growth now with the right policies in place, but we can only keep up that momentum if Congress enacts a jobs bill that promotes deployment of solar and other clean energy technologies.”

“The United States has been the world leader in geothermal energy production and, in the past years, our industry has seen renewed growth, even despite the recession,” notes Karl Gawell of GEA. “The keys to sustain this growth will be adopting longer-term measures to support an increase in both new projects and the manufacturing and supply infrastructure. That means extending the stimulus bill’s tax incentives through 2016, adopting a strong renewable electricity standard, and other measures to keep the US a leader in geothermal energy.”

“Policy matters in tapping hydropower’s tremendous growth potential in every state, which will lead to the creation of well-paying, family-supporting jobs,” explains Church Ciocci of NHA. “We need a strong RES, tax incentives and other support policy if we are to double hydropower’s contribution to America’s energy portfolio.”

“Thousands of jobs in the biomass power industry could be lost if Congress fails to extend the production tax credit for biomass power that recently expired late last year; these tax credits are literally the life-line to many biomass power facilities that provide long-term high paying jobs in rural areas currently facing unemployment levels as high as 15%,” warns Robert Cleaves of BPA.

“Congress should support all American sources of renewable energy by renewing the production tax credit for biomass power and passing an aggressive national renewable electricity standard. Policies that promote the growth of America’s renewable energy sector will move the United States closer towards energy independence, create thousands of long-term clean energy jobs, and reduce our reliance on foreign sources of energy.”

Renewable Energy Standard: 25% by 2025

A recent study by Navigant Consulting reveals that a national renewable energy standard that requires 25% of electricity by 2025 to come from renewable energy would result in 274,000 more jobs in the US renewable energy sector than a scenario without a national renewable energy standard policy.

The study Job Impacts of a National Renewable Electricity Standard concludes that a national renewable energy standard would support the cumulative equivalent of 2.36 million job-years of work, and the estimate of 274,000 jobs is significantly higher than the expected jobs supported in the current House and Senate provisions under consideration in Congress.

“The report analysis clearly shows that an RES of 25% by 2025 results in significantly expanded job opportunities in renewable energy,” explains Lisa Frantzis of Navigant. “Each renewable technology will support jobs in different regions across the country, with the bottom line being a marked increase in job opportunities nationwide.”

Without stronger near-term targets than currently envisioned, the report warns that wind energy will experience flat job growth and long-term stagnation, while the biomass industry could collapse completely. Business needs long-term market prospects to invest in manufacturing and related facilities, and the researchers warn that the current system of production and investment tax credits, some of which last only a year, cannot provide that certainty.