The results are in: Transitioning to a clean energy economy offers huge economic growth opportunities for New Mexico businesses and entrepreneurs. And, as a small business owner, growing our business is something that I think about every day.
The job growth has already begun
A recent study from the Pew Environment Group indicates that job growth in the clean energy sector is vastly outperforming – by more than threefold – job growth in other industries. Between 1998 and 2007, for example, jobs grew nationwide at a rate of just 3.7 percent, whereas clean energy jobs grew by a whopping 9.1 percent. These are jobs that pay well, with opportunities ranging from entry-level workers to executives, which will be good for the state’s long-term economic prosperity.
In fact, we’re already seeing good things happen. Although New Mexico’s overall job growth over that same period has been a relatively weak 1.9 percent, our clean energy sector jobs have bucked the trend, growing by an astounding 50.1 percent. In 2010, the number of employees in my own business doubled in Las Cruces and grew by 50 percent statewide. Most of us aren’t yet solar installers, home retrofitters, or working in a lab developing algae fuels, but all of us benefit from New Mexicans having good jobs.
Future job growth
Although New Mexico is uniquely positioned to be a regional leader in clean energy production, we have done very little to capitalize on that advantage. Although we have vast solar potential (ranked second in the United States, according to a study by the Collective Heritage Institute/Bioneers), we are ranked 20th in installed photovoltaic capacity in the United States and don’t even break into the top 10 when we correct for population by looking at per capita installations (Interstate Renewable Energy Council’s 2010 Report).
Solar is our highest-profile renewable resource, but we also have strong wind and geothermal potential. According to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey, New Mexico’s geothermal resources, using today’s technology, could power more 1 million homes. And soon, as technology develops, we could have the capacity to power another 40 million homes. Experts forecast that moving to a clean energy economy that includes solar, wind and geothermal technology could create over 15,000 jobs in the state of New Mexico. That’s good for our citizens and our economy.
Furthermore, as these industries grow and develop, there will be opportunities to sell the goods and services that support the clean energy economy. The clean energy economy makes good business sense.
The high cost of doing nothing
Besides wasting a great opportunity to grow our economy, there’s a heavy cost for us if we don’t move toward clean energy. According to a report prepared by Sandia National Labs, the costs of inaction on climate change for New Mexico are staggering. For example, a business-as-usual approach to climate change will cost each New Mexico household more than $5,000 per year by the year 2020 and over $12,000 per household per year by 2080.
That sort of drain on our pocketbooks would be terrible for New Mexico businesses. Moving to a clean energy economy is a win-win for New Mexico businesses.
What we can do to spur change
So what can we do to speed up the transition to our clean energy economy? According to the Pew Environment Group report, fighting for continued public investment in clean energy initiatives is crucial. It’s long been the role of public investment to incubate emerging technologies. It was true for oil and gas and hydroelectric energy production, and it’s true for clean energy sources as well.
It will also be important to support and implement the recent ruling by the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board to join with other states around the country to build regional energy initiatives that not only reduce carbon emission but also use market forces to spur renewable energy production.
In California, for example, according to the state’s economic development department, there are now more than 500,000 clean energy jobs, thanks to their public investment in and support for clean energy technology. Furthermore, according to a report by the Small Business Majority, California’s cap on carbon emissions has resulted in driving billions of dollars of investment to its clean energy industry. According to the Pew report, over 23 states in the United States are already benefiting from legislation that caps carbon emissions.
Join with me
Recent reports indicate that support for clean energy is widespread in the business sector. A recent national survey found that 61 percent of small business owners believe that moving to a clean energy economy will restart the country’s economy and, most importantly, be good for their bottom lines. Our state Legislature is currently considering weakening our current RPS, which requires our utilities to generate a certain percentage of their power from renewable sources. This action could cause renewable energy projects that are currently in the planning stages to be canceled, and would certainly result in the loss of many recently created jobs in the renewable energy industry.
I hope you’ll join with me in supporting New Mexico’s clean energy economy. It’s good for business, and it’s good for New Mexico.
Mark Westbrock manages and is an employee-owner of the Las Cruces branch of Positive Energy Solar and serves on the board of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce. A prior version of this posting incorrectly named the Pew Research Center, not the Pew Environment Group, as the publisher of a study cited.