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Technology Forum in Virginia Misses the Biggest Story: Cleantech Boom

3 min. read

Earlier today, your intrepid Scaling Green correspondent attended the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) forum in Reston, featuring Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli.  The purpose of the forum was to "provide technology business leaders the opportunity to learn about the candidates' views related to technology and business policy."  Given the importance of cleantech, we fully expected that this topic would be discussed. Instead, in about three hours, the participants and the audience essentially didn't touch on energy issues at all, let alone on cleantech - one of the fastest growing industries in the country, and one with enormous potential for Virginia.

This omission was both surprising and disappointing. Let's start with the fact that solar power is the fastest growing industry in the U.S., with more than 119,000 people (and growing rapidly) working in the sector.  The potential for U.S. jobs growth from exporting clean technology is enormous as well. For instance, "If US businesses capture a 14% market share in just a subset of this new clean technology market [in the developing world], it would result in up to 850,000 new American jobs."

At the state level, as this article points out, "the clean energy sector has far outpaced job growth in the California economy, despite two major recessions." It's certainly not happening only in California. As this report by DBL Investors explains, cleantech job growth is taking place in states across America, including in both "red" and "blue" states politically. As the DBL report puts it, outside of Washington, DC, cleantech "is almost universally appreciated as the important engine for job development and economic growth that it is."

Of course, some states are doing a lot better than others when it comes to putting policies in place to encourage cleantech growth. Unfortunately, Virginia is not one of the success stories, with a "D" rating in residential solar and a power mix that remains dominated by coal and nuclear. Virginia is also one of the least energy efficient states, as "[r]epeated attempts to introduce energy efficiency goals and resource standards have not been successful."

Clearly, there's a great deal of room for improvement in Virginia when it comes to energy policy. With regard to the state's anemic RPS, for instance, Energy Fact Check explains why this is such a big loss for Virginia, as "RPS policies are currently driving over 1/3 of new renewable energy development across America in a cost-competitive manner that protects American consumers." RPS mandates are also "driv[ing] in-state economic growth." For instance, "[s]ince Montana’s RPS was implemented, the state has seen more than $1.6 billion of capital investment in renewable energy, the addition of 1,500 high-paying construction jobs, 100 more permanent jobs, and 650 megawatts of newly installed renewable energy." Also worth noting: "Michigan’s Public Service Commission has concluded that its current RPS law – 10% by 2015 – is saving money for energy customers." The state-level RPS success stories go on and on.

In the final analysis, a discussion of "technology and business policy" which omits cleantech is missing a huge piece of the puzzle. Let's hope that future forums in Virginia, and elsewhere, will give cleantech the emphasis its due.  Let's also hope that politicians running for high office will internalize - and start to forcefully articulate - the message that smart energy policy drives business innovation and investment.