Kentucky is sitting on a veritable gold mine of clean-energy resources waiting to be tapped. Every corner of the state — from our farmlands to our cities — has the potential to be a major player in clean energy, one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the U.S.
All we need is a little help from our elected officials. They need to pass the Clean Energy Opportunity Act. It would encourage Kentucky's power companies to expand clean energy and energy efficiency efforts across the state, creating thousands of jobs and lowering utility bills for Kentuckians from Paducah to Pikeville.
As the owner of a solar energy company based in Lexington, I have seen firsthand how clean energy creates jobs and saves Kentuckians money. In our six years in business, we have installed solar energy systems on dozens of homes and multiple other buildings throughout the state. These systems help lock in energy prices for our customers who had been facing ever-increasing utility bills. Thanks to growing demand for solar energy, our company has added eight employees in the last two years.
We are just one of many clean-energy companies expanding operations, creating jobs and helping Kentuckians stabilize and lower their energy bills. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. Kentucky's clean-energy job market is nominal compared to surrounding manufacturing states like Ohio and North Carolina that have already passed legislation similar to the Clean Energy Opportunity Act.
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Today, Ohio is home to more than 9,000 renewable-energy jobs and was second in the nation last year in solar-panel manufacturing and installation. In fact, there are twice as many solar installations in Cincinnati alone as there are in the entire state of Kentucky. Clean energy has been so successful in Cincinnati that the city is considering purchasing 100 percent of its energy from renewable sources. Since 2007, North Carolina has added 15,000 clean-energy jobs (a 30 percent increase every year) and created 1,200 new clean-energy businesses.
These numbers reflect the U.S. economy as a whole. According to a recent Brookings Institute report, as of 2010 there were more than 800,000 people employed in the clean-energy sector, and during the 2008-09 economic recession, the clean-energy economy grew faster than the U.S. economy as a whole, expanding at a rate of 8.3 percent.
A 2009 study by Pew Charitable Trusts found that between 1998 and 2007, clean-energy jobs grew by 9.1 percent while overall jobs grew only by 3.7 percent. And in 2008, venture capital investment in the U.S. clean-energy economy was $5.9 billion, a 48 perecent increase over 2007 investment totals.
Kentucky could get in on this action. According to a report released last month by Synapse Energy Economics, passing the Clean Energy Opportunity Act could create 28,000 new jobs in Kentucky and keep electricity rates 8 percent to 10 percent lower than current projections.
We don't have time to lose. In 2010 alone, Kentucky lost $3.5 million in solar-installation contract dollars to out-of-state companies for work done in Kentucky. And of the $12.5 billion in venture capital invested in clean energy from 1998 to 2007, exactly zero was invested in Kentucky.
According to a 2011 study by the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training, the majority of clean-energy jobs are full-time positions that require no more than a high school education. These jobs also span all types of trades and professions — including construction workers, manufacturers, engineers, IT specialists and building energy assessors.
Passing the Clean Energy Opportunity Act wouldn't just create jobs, it would also save Kentuckians millions of dollars on energy bills over the next 10 years due to expanded energy-efficiency efforts. This would be welcome relief to Kentuckians whose average electricity rates have increased 47 percent over the past five years, and especially to low-income households that spend more than 20 percent of their income on energy.
It's time we get serious about building Kentucky's clean energy economy. We can't afford not to.