Yesterday, a debate was held in New York City to answer this very question: can the investment of billions into the clean energy sector trigger the creation of millions of jobs and innovation? Or are we simply pumping dollars into the myth of a green economy? Bill Ritter and Kassia Yanosek are for the motion with Robert Bryce and Steven Hayward arguing against, and John Donovan, of ABC Nightline News, is moderating. The event was hosted by the Intelligence Squared U.S. Foundation at the NYU Skirball Center.

Fortunately, the environmental community has already given some thought to how clean energy investments can reap dividends in economic development for the United States: the 2012 Green Budget was released. This document outlines our vision for exactly how these investments can make good on their promise. My contribution to the Green Budget was in the Department of Energy’s wind power section, with a particular focus on offshore wind.

This section highlights the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s report last summer that each megawatt of offshore wind capacity built can generate up to potentially 20 jobs, and that the United States has over 4,000,000 MW of offshore wind energy potential. It also notes DOE’s new offshore wind program, the Offshore Wind Innovation and Development Initiative. As the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement continues to streamline the offshore wind permitting and leasing process by identifying Wind Energy Areas and working with stakeholders to ensure environmentally sustainable siting, we can anticipate more movement in this industry. 

With a recent Harvard Medical School study revealing that health and environmental damage can triple the cost of coal power and cost the economy an additional $345 billion in hidden expenses, clean, healthy and stably priced energy like wind is sounding more appealing than ever. We are starting to see more state activity supporting this notion. One example is Maryland, where Governor O’Malley recently announced legislation, the Offshore Wind Energy Act, designed to ramp up offshore wind. Under this Act, state utilities would provide their customers with energy produced at wind farms slated for development off the state’s coast, by entering into long-term contracts with the facilities. This is particularly relevant in Maryland where the number of unemployed Marylanders now tops 219,000, and the state is suffering disproportionately high health impacts because of its reliance on dirty fuels.

Another example can be found in Virginia where offshore wind jobs are already getting off the ground and companies are investing because they believe in the return. Last month, Gamesa Technology Corp. and the shipbuilding operations of Northrop Grumman launched an Offshore Wind Technology Center in Chesapeake. The companies are seeking to develop America’s first offshore wind turbines by late next year and they’ve already hired 50 engineers to start. This is tangible proof that clean energy can absolutely put Americans to work. Furthermore, we can do so while merging the technologies of the future with those we’ve depended on for generations.

While the Green Budget provides a template, this debate provides the dialogue that is happening all around the nation. I think that it is pretty clear that I’ve shown my hand given my commitment personally and professionally to these issues. However, I encourage healthy pushback and hope that any looming questions about how our country can again “aim for the moon” to stimulate America’s economic recovery will be answered not by waiting light-years or looking light-years away, but by investing in clean energy right here in the United States of America.

Click here for more info on the Green Budget:

Photo by dleafy.