The Mountain Times

°F Fri, April 18, 2014

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Doubling down to support renewable energy jobs in Vermont

When he was in Vermont, President Obama called for a "doubling down" in support of clean energy.  Prior to taking the stage, he was introduced by Jeanne Morrissey, the head of a local contracting company. One of the last times Morrissey spoke in public she stood heartfelt before a field of solar trackers, fighting back tears as she explained how the project provided her workers employment, enabling them to feed their families during tough economic times. 

As Vermonters-citizens of a state that was just ranked No.1 in the country for "green jobs" by the Department of Labor-we've really got something to be proud of.

But Vermont's growing renewable energy industry is creating far more than just traditional "green jobs." For example, when a solar tracker, manufactured by Vermont company AllEarth Renewables, is installed (whether it's just one or 300) an entire chain of activity is triggered: metal work at NSA Industries in St. Johnsbury and Northeast Precision in Lyndonville, components from Milton, cable assemblies from Rutland County, electrical boards from Grennon's Solder Works in Bristol.

Companies like Sunward, a Vergennes solar hot water manufacturer, also triggers an entirely different chain reaction of local job creation.

In an era where our economy seems to be offshoring virtually everything, Vermont clean energy complanies are moving toward local. AllEarth Renewables recently on-shored circuit board assembly from Taiwan to Image-Tek in Springfield, Vt.  

And that's just on the manufacturing side. Vermont installers are also hard at work.

Producing renewable, local energy with technologies manufactured literally in our backyard is in the best of Vermont traditions. 

I think back to the idle sawmill that once churned away in my hometown of Calais.  In its day, it was using clean, local energy to produce the products people needed. That's possible again in the 21st Century.

Vermont was largely bypassed by the industrial revolution. We've struggled to keep up with the internet and wireless revolutions. We cannot afford to be left out of the clean technology revolution.

But each and every state is competing for its own slice of the renewable energy pie. And, frankly, we've seen firsthand the many states fighting more aggressively than Vermont to develop renewable energy markets. If we don't get our pro-growth policies right, we risk being left behind.

Here's an example: last year Vermont's groSolar sold its residential business to SolarCity, another national company. After the sale SolarCity made clear it had no intention to do business in Vermont based on our solar market, taking potential jobs elsewhere. 

Our policies need to be right or this clean energy revolution will pass us by.

So what can Governor Shumlin and legislators do this session?

•  Fully fund the successful Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF).  Kavet, Rockler & Associates found that every $1 invested by the CEDF results in $4 in private capital investment. It must be fully funded or the many small solar energy, community wind, and solar hot water installation businesses around the state will face a market that yo-yo's unpredictably, stifling jobs, local manufacturing, and the ability of many Vermonters to afford renewable systems.
 
•  Expand Vermont's Standard Offer program for distributed renewable energy projects. We should encourage renewable energy development in areas near energy-users like IBM or Green Mountain Coffee where new energy generation nearby will avoid wasting ratepayer dollars on unnecessary transmission upgrades.
 
•  Provide predictable and fair property taxation for renewable projects because if done right, new investors will fund more projects and property tax revenues will grow.
 
•  Continue to improve Vermont's popular net metering program enabling towns like Hinesburg, businesses like Concept II, and homeowners, farms, and non-profits to produce their own renewable energy- investing locally, creating good jobs, and securing their future energy costs.  Vermont utilities have demonstrated that solar net metering benefits all utility customers.

We've got a choice. Vermont can manufacture clean technologies installed by local workers producing the renewable energy we need for decades right here. Or, we can let the industry of the 21st Century pass us by.  Let's choose wisely.

Andrew Savage of Burlington is on the executive management team of AllEarth Renewables and is former Deputy Chief of Staff for Rep. Peter Welch.

Tagged: op ed, andrew savage