West Coast gets big, and growing, boost from clean energy

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Noah Long, Energy Program Attorney, San Francisco

In 2008, the leaders of the States of California, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, and the Province of British Columbia, signed the Pacific Coast Collaborative (PCC) Agreement.  This week, the collaborative launched this report that shows how the region’s clean economy can continue to create jobs and economic prosperity, with the right policies.  With a collective population in excess of 50 million and a gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $2.5 trillion USD, the four West Coast jurisdictions (the report doesn’t include Alaska, which didn’t join in this particular effort) constitute the world’s sixth largest economy and the region is already a world leader in terms of clean economic growth and job creation. 

The most exciting aspect of the report is the joint commitment from the leaders of the region to work together going forward to expand the clean economy.  The report estimates huge potential for growth in the sector over the next 8 years.

Potential Net Job Creation: 1.03 Million Full Time Equivalent (FTE) Jobs – a 200% Increase

Total GDP Contribution: Up to US $142.7 Billion

Net New GDP Contribution: Up to US $95.6 Billion

Increased Investment: US $147-192 Billion

The report is a forward-looking assessment of what is and what could be as the West Coast region of North America progresses toward a cleaner, lower-carbon economic future. While the report unfortunately implies that some fossil fuels should be included in the ‘clean economy,’ most of the report includes great news and big ideas. It focuses on how regional collaboration will allow the leveraging of each jurisdiction’s strengths to create a strong, globally competitive market for clean technology products and services.

The report notes that high volatility in commodity supply and prices will be a continuing fact of life for at least the next two decades. They note that pricing carbon is an essential element in strengthening the clean economy and that in the absence of national action, sub-national economic development and carbon management initiatives, like California’s AB 32 and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the Northeast are also emerging as key drivers of change to accelerate this successful transition. 

Here are some of the key findings from the report:

The clean economy is already providing huge benefits: Of the total new clean economy jobs created in the US in 2007, 21% were in California, Oregon, and Washington.  A conservative estimate of current clean economy GDP contributions and employment for the West Coast region totals $47.2 billion and more than 508,400 full-time jobs. That is a huge sector, and doesn’t even count the huge economic benefits that come from increased economic activity from energy efficiency savings.  Furthermore, clean economy jobs have grown on average 2-3 times faster than total jobs in the economy over the last decade, and they are more resilient to market volatility and vulnerabilities. 

The report also highlights some future areas for collaboration on the west coast, which could lead to even bigger economic gains from clean energy:

Clean Energy Supply

  • Working cooperatively to expand private investment in the region’s clean energy sector and leveling the playing field to facilitate deployment of clean energy supply throughout the west coast region.

Energy Efficiency and Green Buildings

  • Using the “highest” green building standards for public buildings, particularly with respect to energy efficiency retrofits and new building construction; promoting the use of zero-net energy building design and practices; and encouraging private sector support for innovative financing mechanisms.
  • Working together on regional environmental and energy efficiency standards and requirements, where appropriate, to accelerate clean economy initiatives and to provide greater levels of transparency, predictability, and certainty to businesses, entrepreneurs, and private sector investors.

Clean Transportation

  • Expanding on region-wide clean transportation initiatives that include using joint purchasing power for low carbon vehicles; integrating electrification and/or alternative fuel use in port activities and coastal ferry systems; exploring the regional benefits of high-speed rail corridors; and lowering the carbon footprint of long-haul trucking operations.

Environmental Protection and Resource Management

  • Collecting and sharing data and information for use in monitoring efforts and for developing the region’s climate adaptation and resiliency strategies, including the potential to further develop emergency response plans and create a region-wide natural capital index.
  • Establishing a resource recovery initiative to develop a market for recycled goods and deconstruction resources, diverting potentially reusable material away from landfills and creating immediate employment and business opportunities.

Each of the states highlighted in the report has already done some great work developing a clean energy economy and some success stories are highlighted in the report:

California

  • California’s landmark energy standards have saved state residents and businesses billions of dollars over the past three decades. As a result of energy efficiency efforts for buildings and appliances beginning in 1978, California ratepayers have saved $56 billion and will save an additional $23 billion through 2013 (California Clean Energy Future).
  • This year, California reached a major milestone of 1 gigawatt (GW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) on rooftops across the state in 2011 (California Public Utilities Commission). Even during the height of the recession, California has managed to grow its solar market by 40% per year. To put that into perspective, only five other countries in the world have reached this mark.

Oregon

  • Cool Schools is a financing mechanism for energy efficiency upgrades in public schools across Oregon. Since June 2011, 400 school buildings have received energy audits, while 11 school districts have applied for or secured over $9.5 million for school retrofits. 
  • United Street Car, a subsidiary of Oregon Iron Works, became the first and only manufacturer of modern streetcars in America in 60 years. All streetcars are Buy America compliant, creating a ripple effect in the economy and touching 20 states and over 200 vendors.

Washington

  • Low income Weatherization programs through Washington State’s Department of Commerce have weatherized nearly 70,000 low-income households since 1993. Over 13,000 households were upgraded during the recession, creating or retaining 180 jobs and supporting another 320. For every weatherization dollar spent, $3 is added to the economy.
  • The Jobs Act was funded through Washington’s 2010 Supplemental Capital Budget. The Jobs Act made $100 million in competitive grant funds available to public school districts and public higher education institutions for improvements to their facilities to save money in energy and operation costs. The Washington State Department of Commerce awarded $50 million through a competitive process to 40 K-12 schools, universities, community colleges, and technical colleges throughout the state. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction awarded the other $50 million in grants to 77 public schools districts across the state. The $50 million administered through Commerce stimulated Washington’s economy by creating more than 1,100 family wage jobs, the majority of which were in the construction industry.

British Columbia

  • Canada Line is a CAD $2.05-billion rapid transit system opened in Vancouver in August 2009 as a lead up to the 2010 Winter Games. The trains are fully separated from traffic and have transit capacity equivalent to 10 road lanes. With a daily ridership in 2010 of 100,000, the Canada Line has already surpassed expectation and is contributing to the elimination of approximately 14,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually. Its success has set high expectations for the Evergreen Line, for which construction began in January 2012.
  • British Columbia’s Carbon tax is a province-wide, revenue-neutral tax on fossil fuels. B.C. is the first North American region to put a “price on carbon” through a comprehensive tax, helping to drive innovation and increase efficiency across all sectors of the economy.

Let’s hope that the report launches a new era of collaboration between these leading clean energy economies!

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