With a total of only 1,231 square miles, Rhode Island is the smallest state in America. But in a short period of time, the state is starting to have a big impact on the development of renewable energy resources nationwide.
Wind and solar power have economic benefits that reach far and wide. They have become increasingly affordable, attracting billions in private development, and today are both mainstream and reliable energy sources across America.
Though Rhode Island’s onshore wind potential still has much growing left to do, the Ocean State is already an important player in manufacturing in the wind supply chain, and wind power has already attracted about $20 million in capital investment to the state. TPI Composites in Warren helps design and build the complex tools and structures that make up wind turbine blades, and harvesting Rhode Island’s land-based and offshore wind power potential would pay dividends to the state’s economy.
Rhode Island is just beginning its investment in solar, but you only need to look north to see how much economic power the sun can provide. In Massachusetts, $789 million was invested last year alone to install solar for home, business and utility use. There are now 47 times more solar panels in Massachusetts than seats in Fenway Park.
In the Ocean State, too, solar is gaining momentum. The Whole Foods market here in Providence has rooftop solar panels working to keep your veggies cool — and, more importantly, across the state there are already 20 companies devoted to the solar value chain, employing 340 people.
Wind and solar power’s economic benefits spread far beyond Rhode Island and reach all 50 states.
As of 2013, there were more than 550 manufacturing factories across the country serving the wind industry. Wind energy continues to power the national manufacturing sector, with 72 percent of a turbine’s value American-made in 2012. And that’s just one segment of an industry that’s employed up to 80,000 workers here in America.
The solar industry employs more than 140,000 people at more than 6,000 companies. And the economic benefits of solar touch communities in every part of America, with thousands of installers and electricians operating on the ground, doing solar-related work every single day in all 50 states.
Renewable energy saves American consumers money. Just a few weeks ago, Massachusetts announced it would buy 409 MW of wind power from Maine, which will act as an important hedge against natural gas price increases. During normal periods and during periods of peak demand, such as this winter’s extreme cold, wind helps keep electricity and natural gas prices in check.
Smart public policies continue to help ensure that American consumers can exercise energy freedom, choosing the source that best meets their needs and the needs of their children. For a century, the U.S. has effectively used our tax code to encourage domestic energy production and drive down their related costs for all energy sources.
The Production Tax Credit (PTC), wind power’s primary incentive, has driven constant improvement in the technology to make wind power more affordable — a 43 percent drop in cost in just four years.
With the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) in place, the average price of a solar system has dropped by more than 50 percent since 2010, benefiting consumers, businesses, schools and government entities.
However, smart federal policies like the PTC and solar ITC can’t do their job if Congress doesn’t let them.
While opponents of clean energy in Congress continue to delay extending the PTC, tens of thousands of American jobs and billions of dollars in private investment hang in the balance. When businesses are unable to plan for the long term, they and their employees suffer. Predictable, stable, pro-growth tax policy is vital if the U.S. wind energy industry is to keep growing.
Whether because homegrown renewable energy helps creates jobs or because it helps them save money on their electric bills, Americans recognize renewables are a good deal, and that’s reflected in polls. Just in December 2013, a USA Today poll found that 73 percent of Americans are in favor of continuing tax policy support for wind power, solar power and other renewables.
It’s time for opponents of clean energy in Congress to listen to America.
(Ken Johnson is SEIA Vice President of Communications; Elizabeth Salerno is AWEA Vice President of Industry Data and Analysis)