WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Alternative energy jobs can provide vocations across many sectors of the economy but policy to spark them can take years to develop, U.S. governors told a Senate committee on Tuesday.
State green power mandates and regional cap-and-trade plans on emissions have been useful tools in pushing local economies to begin to convert from fossil fuel plants to green jobs, the governors told the Senate's Committee on Environment and Public Works.
"This didn't happen by accident," Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter told the committee about thousands of green jobs that will be created in his state in wind power manufacturing plants and alternative battery companies. "It happened through a concerted and aggressive effort starting in 2004."
That's when Colorado became one of the first states in the country to require power utilities to generate a certain amount of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind power.
The main U.S. climate bill that will soon be taken up by the Senate would require utilities to generate 15 percent of their power from renewable energy. While the bill passed in the House of Representatives last month, the bill's future in the Senate is uncertain.
Getting climate legislation passed is one of President Barack Obama's top goals. But some lawmakers, like Sen John Barrasso of Wyoming, who have already grown impatient with the ability of Obama's stimulus bill passed earlier this year to spark jobs in the clean energy sector say climate legislation could push jobs overseas.
The U.S. unemployment rate hit a 26-year high of 9.5 percent in June, far higher than the administration envisioned when it pushed for the $800 billion stimulus package.
But New Jersey's Governor Jon Corzine said policies like cap-and-trade plans can provide jobs. The states's membership in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a plan initiated in 2003 to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, has helped the state develop green jobs, he said.
In addition, aggressive tax incentives have helped New Jersey, which does not have the abundance of sunshine that solar-power generating states like Arizona and California enjoy, to become one of the top states for solar power.
Corzine also threw his support behind creation of the $10 billion "Green Bank" plan in the carbon bill passed by the House that would provide direct loans and government loan guarantees to alternative energy companies despite the credit crunch.
He said such a bank, known as the Clean Energy Deployment Administration, would act as a kind of "Marshall Plan" for the low carbon economy, referring to the U.S. plan for rebuilding Europe after World War II.
The governors said the time it takes to develop green jobs underscored the need to move quickly on policies like regulating greenhouse gases and clean power mandates.