Viewpoint: Energy and the economy — let’s move forward

Viewpoint: Energy and the economy — let’s move forward

By Jay Lucey, Executive Director
Coalition of Northeastern Governors

While it’s a popular motto to help people feel good about the pace of progress and the need to make calculated risks, “two steps forward, one step back” should not apply to energy policy in our country. However, that’s what would happen if the current federal administration continues to advance its expected infrastructure agenda with provisions to repeal regulations limiting offshore drilling for coastal states.

From the start, our region has embraced clean energy and investments in our energy and transportation infrastructure, in building resilient communities and cultivating a booming regional economy. We need to continue aggressively protecting the nearly 4,100 miles of coastline in the northeastern United States not just for the natural beauty and regional economies but also to keep our efforts concentrated on growing the amount of cleaner and reliable energy in our portfolio and on building a resilient system.

The transition to a cleaner energy future is rooted in renewable energy sources. Massachusetts continues to make strides in cultivating additional wind and solar projects which encourages innovation and provides jobs in addition to addressing environmental needs. A repeal of the offshore drilling protections would threaten not only our environment but our economy and way of life that is vital to the northeastern United States particularly the maritime industries who are in vocal opposition to the repeal of the ban.

Compared to some of its counterparts across the country, much of the northeast region has enjoyed a more favorable business climate in the last decade. We have a robust talent pool fed from the large number of high-quality academic institutions located within and with that, we have been able to lead innovation in clean energy. Moreover, our business ecosystem is stable and sustainable; but like most ecosystems one disruption can have a negative impact for years. Let’s not have offshore drilling be that detrimental disruption.

Our energy portfolio in the northeast is not perfect, but nothing is. The proposed federal budget plan does not satisfy everyone but states, regions and businesses can create new solutions for needs not addressed. What is important from this point is our consistency and continuity in the path forward. Critics may say the offshore drilling is a cyclical debate and “politics as usual”. Others may point to the use of natural gas as a bridge fuel and wonder whether that bridge can ever be dismantled.

The bottom line is, moving two steps forward and one step back will never get us where we need to be. We need to keep up our pace, to expand the coalition of the fourteen major employers in Massachusetts who have pledged to move us to 50% renewable energy by 2020 and replicate that in other states. We need to ensure our entire business and civic community plays a part.

As we consider this offshore issue, we are also aware of the need for infrastructure upgrades. As a densely-populated region with businesses, academia and other commerce dependent on aging transportation systems and other critical infrastructure, we understand the importance of these resources. However, we can’t let infrastructure distract us from our clean energy goals. We can have both. Clean energy and strong infrastructure are complementary items and together they encourage vibrant communities.

The numbers are there: there are 3,145 MW of installed wind projects in the northeast and 3,782 MW of installed solar. And they’re growing. Together solar and wind support nearly 37,600 jobs directly and indirectly. There’s more to be gained in the form of jobs and economic benefits right here, right now. We’ve done the hard work, we’ve figured out the best way forward with the help of both private and public sectors. Let’s build on years of good work and continue growing our clean energy economy where it needs to be.

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