Energy policy came up pretty quickly in last night’s debate. Mitt Romney actually listed energy independence as his first plan for economic growth and job creation in his opening. While energy independence and investments in energy production are good economic engines, how much economic growth will occur depends on what we are talking about when we talk about energy independence.
For maximum economic impact, energy independence can not mean domestic oil and gas production alone. We’ve detailed how “all of the above” energy plans should really be “some of the above” and focus on expanding and promoting renewables instead of continuing to base our energy future on fossil fuel extraction. Deciding which energy sources to support and grow and which ones to phase out will have a big impact on the economy. Not only does an energy future based on renewables help stave off the worst impacts of climate change, it will stimulate more economic growth.
Fossil fuel exploration has pretty much hit its limit. Most of the oil and gas that was easily extracted has already been extracted and now we need to move to more extreme forms of energy extraction, like fracking or tar sand mining. These processes are more expensive and environmentally damaging. Profits from these forms of energy extraction are also concentrated in the hands of a few very rich individuals, like the Koch Brothers and Aubrey McClendon, who dominates the natural gas industry. There is very little economic growth for the struggling towns and municipalities from where the fossil fuels are extracted.
In contrast, renewables are expanding their market share but there is a lot of room for growth. During the last Great Recession, green jobs were one of the few sectors to see growth. The $90 billion the Obama Administration invested in clean energy has already resulted in wind power doubling in three years, solar power quadrupled in four years, and more than one millions homes received energy-saving retrofits, creating jobs and energy savings.
While renewable energy production continues to post big numbers and outperforms nuclear energy, only about 12 percent of our energy comes from renewables, which means there is a huge opportunity for market growth. Unlike fossil fuels, renewables are well suited for small-scale production resulting in more diverse economic growth and opportunity. Plus, clean energy investments create three times as many jobs as fossil fuels.
A clean energy future doesn’t just help fight climate change, it also provides the best path forward for economic growth. Pandering to the fossil fuel industry may be good for politics, but it is terrible for policy. A strong energy policy based on expanding and promoting renewables will create the most economic growth. Fossil fuels are, and always will be, a dead end.