If you look at the growth of “green” jobs in the U.S., it’s hard to miss something interesting: Heavily Republican states are deeply involved in renewable energy development.
That’s the observation from a report authored by Nancy Pfund and Michael Lazar of DBL Investors, a San Francisco-based venture capital firm.
The report’s authors have a point to make: They call for the renewal of federal credits for wind and solar power.
But their larger point, I think, is important: The reality of support for renewable energy in solidly Republican states belies the belief that it’s a clearly partisan issue. And the renewable energy economy and the jobs it supports or could create is certainly a topic in several key swing states.
Pfund and Lazar find that three of the top four states for “clean tech” job growth are solidly red states: Alaska, North Dakota and Wyoming. Hawaii, a solidly blue state, ranks third. New Mexico, which polls for the presidential election show leaning Democrat, rounds out the top five.
Wyoming hosted 4,147 green jobs in 2003, but that climbed by 53 percent to 6,363 in 2010. That’s in a state that voted Republican at an average of 67 percent in the 2004 and 2008 elections. Those employment numbers are tiny when compared to employment figures in other states, but they’re significant for Wyoming’s small population.
The report’s authors also examined the clean tech industry successes of five Republican governors: Rick Perry of Texas, Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Chris Christie of New Jersey and Haley Barbour, former governor of Mississippi. Those governors have sterling conservative credentials yet have championed renewable energy development in their states and federal support for such efforts.
Pfund, the report’s co-author, said in a news release that outside of Washington, D.C., there’s “no controversy about the impact of the clean tech economy and its ability to generate jobs.”
I disagree. There’s plenty of controversy, centering around this: How much should the government pay to provide support for an industry still in transition in terms of costs, use and the ability to sustain itself?
The GOP battle over that issue shows up in the party’s platform. In 2008, Republicans hailed renewable energy as an important source of energy. Said the 2008 platform: “Alternative energy must enter the mainstream.”
The 2012 GOP platform does in fact call for the aggressive development of renewable energy, but tempered that call, stating a need for a “pathway to a market-based approach,” one that would at the very least phase out federal support for renewable energy projects.
The GOP said this in 2008: “In the long run, American production should move to zero-emission sources, and our nation’s fossil fuel resources are the bridge to that emissions-free future.”
Those are words that would be surprising coming from the mouth of a Republican Party leader today, even as red states have shown they’re keen to develop renewable energy projects.
Pfund and Lazar make a good point. What you hear at a national level is not the same as what you hear when you go from state to state, particularly from Republicans, who are far from a monolith when it comes to views on renewable energy.
“Governors in red and blue states alike are working to attract and build clean tech businesses because they know the positive benefits these companies can bring for economic development and job growth,” Pfund said in the release. “As a result, politicians who play political football with clean tech increasingly do so at their own risk, while those that promote green job growth score big points with voters and workers alike.”
I don’t think support for green jobs is going to score big points with all voters, but it’s certainly not a finished discussion in red states such as Wyoming.