Securing America's Independent Energy Future and Creating Sustainable Jobs

By Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO)
December 2010

Because of foresight and investment, the U.S. economy has long been one of the most innovative and entrepreneurial in the world. But we can’t take this position for granted. Facing the pressing challenges of our global energy future, other nations are taking bold steps to become leaders in the emerging clean energy marketplace.

In the last few months, China has proposed investing $738 billion in clean energy development over the next decade – nearly the size of last year’s entire stimulus package. Similarly, South Korea unveiled a plan that would inject $36 billion over five years into renewable energy development, an investment that would make it one of the top-five clean energy leaders by 2015. In addition, Germany is putting in place plans that would enable it to get 100 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2050.

Nations around the world are jockeying to get ahead in a field that will help define the next economic superpowers. Here in the United States, we’re at a crossroads as we consider how to compete. Now is the time to act if we are to keep pace with and overtake China, South Korea, Europe and others. Our first step must be a 21st century clean energy policy – including a national Renewable Electricity Standard, or RES, which would guarantee that a portion of our electricity would be produced from renewable energy sources. Such a standard would give the energy market certainty, unleashing the power of American innovation and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs.

Over the last six years, my home state of Colorado has made the case for the economic benefits of an RES.  In 2004, when I helped lead the campaign for the first statewide RES approved by ballot initiative, naysayers – including several utilities – feared it would stymie economic growth. But Colorado has proven that a forward-looking energy policy goes hand-in-hand with growth, and has become a leader in renewable energy production and technology as a result.  The state legislature has twice raised the standard – to 20 percent by 2020 and this year, to 30 percent by 2020 – making it one of the most aggressive in the nation, and helping to create 20,000 new jobs. In the process, some of the most vocal opponents have become staunch supporters.

More than two-thirds of U.S. states now have a renewable energy requirement similar to Colorado’s because of the associated economic and national security benefits. The American Physical Society recently released a report on the topic, Integrating Renewable Electricity on the Grid. The report’s findings include the need to focus on developing grid-level storage devices, which are among the critical subjects we must address to meet the requirements of a meaningful national RES. However, I’m confident that the time has come to implement an RES on a national scale.  Together with Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, I’ve introduced a bill to create a national RES requiring 25 percent of our country’s electricity be produced from renewables by 2025, and I have co-sponsored another bipartisan initiative to create a 15 percent RES by 2021.

While I believe that the first step to leadership in the future clean energy marketplace must be a 21st century energy policy, I’m pushing my colleagues in Congress to take further steps to encourage new research and to spark creativity and innovation. Support for research and development should be a hallmark of the 112th Congress.

Again, Colorado is paving the way with unique collaborations between industry, government and universities designed to nurture innovative new ideas. Earlier this year, I convened a summit of business leaders, scientists, public officials, and others to explore ways to ensure Colorado remains a leader in the clean energy revolution. The summit, in part, helped spur a partnership between the Colorado Association for Manufacturing and Technology, NASA, the state of Colorado, the U.S. Department of Energy and several Colorado universities. Their goal is to encourage and expedite innovation in clean energy and aerospace technologies by improving the connections between research, technology transfer, and commercialization of new products.

Another example is the Colorado Renewable Energy Collaboratory, a research consortium that comprises three of the state’s world-class universities and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory working in concert with industry partners and public agencies. Together, these entities aim to: (1) create and speed the commercialization of renewable energy technologies, energy management systems, and energy efficiency measures; (2) support economic growth in Colorado and the nation with renewable energy industries; and (3) educate our nation’s finest energy researchers, technicians, and workforce.

Such synergistic industry-government-university collaborations drawing upon regional strengths are a novel and efficient means of spurring innovation, creating jobs and diversifying our economy. Innovation is what America does best. So let’s reinvest on a national scale and leverage the kind of partnerships that Colorado has already proven can work so well. Now is the time to reach for new innovative horizons to cement our leadership in the clean energy economy. A national RES should be step one.

Mark Udall was elected to the U.S. Senate on Nov. 4, 2008. He serves on three committees and is one of a few freshman senators chosen to lead a subcommittee. His committee assignments include Armed Services, Energy and Natural Resources, and the Special Committee on Aging. Reinforcing his priority of protecting U.S. western lands, Sen. Udall chairs the National Parks Subcommittee. His committee assignments give him a platform to address many issues important to Colorado, including national security, energy, the economy, clean energy jobs and natural resources.

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