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September 21, 2011

Keeping Up with the Solar (and Wind) Joneses

Mary Anne's Solar Panels Earlier this year, my husband and I put up solar panels at our home – the first solar project in our historic West Virginia town. Well, just last week, inspired by our project, our neighbor installed a solar system three times bigger than ours. He expects it will generate the vast majority of the electricity his family of five uses. We heard that the town planner recently referred to our block as the town's "solar district." This is the kind of keeping up with the Joneses that I could get used to.

My block was not the only place where clean energy gained momentum this week. A new report just out finds that the solar industry is adding jobs faster that the economy as a whole. The solar industry continues to rise, as the Solar Foundation's 2011 Solar Jobs Census shows:

  • There were 100,237 solar industry jobs as of August 2011
  • There was 6.8% growth from August 2010 to August 2011
  • There were 6,735 new solar jobs created between August 2010 and August 2011

From their release: "To put this into context, the overall economy only grew 0.7% and the fossil fuel electric generation industry actually experienced a 2% decrease in its workforce during that same period. Clearly the solar industry is doing something right."

As the solar industry as a whole continues to grow, solar prices continue to come down – way down, and in turn, installations are way up. Between impressive job creation numbers, industry-wide growth and falling prices, the solar industry is one of the most promising industries in America today.  And the good news isn't limited to just one of the clean energy options that will move America beyond dirty, dangerous and increasingly expensive coal.

From solar energy to wind power - the good news continues. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just reignited the push for offshore wind energy. The state submitted a lease application for the Long Island - New York City Offshore Wind Project - a collaborative effort by New York Power Authority, Long Island Power Authority, and Con Edison to build a massive offshore wind farm 13 miles off the Rockaway Peninsula (PDF)

Governor Cuomo had plenty of support in this move, too: 42 state legislators wrote to him supporting development of offshore wind (DOC).  New York has substantial offshore wind resources, and it is certainly time for New Yorkers to reap the economic and environmental benefits of locally-produced clean energy. Investment in wind power near New York City and Long Island will mean healthier air, hundreds of clean energy jobs for New York workers and reliable, affordable energy for businesses.

Offshore wind projects must be sited in a manner that is protective of our coastal and marine resources, and we look forward to working with all the partners involved to ensure that this and other offshore wind projects receive sufficient environmental review.

Just down the coast in Virginia, the Sierra Club and unions united to push the state for more wind power because it's good for air quality and the economy - the union leaders estimate the industry could create 10,000 jobs for Virginians. I particularly love this quote from one news article on this coalition:
Bill Harriday of the United Steelworkers said the 8,000 members who work at Newport News' Huntington Ingalls shipyard are up to the challenge of constructing and assembling wind turbines that rise hundreds of feet from the ocean floor.

"We build aircraft carriers," Harriday said in an interview. "I think we can build wind turbines."

The shipyard is the only one in the U.S. that builds aircraft carriers.

"We see this as a growth industry," Harriday said of the nascent wind turbine industry in the U.S., which lags behind Europe. "We have the skills and the ability and we have the people who are willing to work hard."

We are making great strides in moving away from coal and toward clean energy. From my block to yours, we need to keep this momentum going.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign. Photo is of Mary Anne Hitt's solar panels being installed. Photo by Tricia Fulks of the Shepherdstown Chronicle.


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