Published: December 03, 2020

The economic case for clean energy


The city of Toledo’s recent decision to embrace clean, renewable energy will be a good thing for local residents, businesses, schools, and communities. Expanding the share of electricity the city derives from utility-scale solar power will help lower carbon emissions as well as electricity costs. This effort will place Toledo in good company with other northwestern Ohio communities that have benefited from the rapid expansion of clean energy.

As former economic development director for Paulding County, I have seen the transformative impact clean energy projects can have on local communities and economies firsthand. During my time there, we helped bring in $600 million of investment to the county through the development of large-scale wind farms. In total over a five-year period, Paulding County saw a $1 billion in capital investment because of wind energy.

Not only do these investments help decrease carbon emissions, but they provide real, tangible benefits for our communities. The county gets millions of dollars in pilot pay-ments from wind energy companies and millions more goes to landowners for the private contracts to allow their land to be used to site a wind turbine. Local school districts are arguably the biggest winners; in Paulding County, the money from wind farms has helped schools hire new teachers, boost student performance, improve campuses, and create scholarships.

Moreover, investing in clean energy is just plain good for local jobs and economies. Developing Ohio’s renewable energy resources like wind and solar helps to create jobs not only in those specific sectors, but in related industries like manufacturing, building and construction, and engineering. In that sense, these investments create a positive economic ripple effect that reaches far beyond what we generally think of when we think about clean energy jobs.

That is why I applaud the Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz and the Toledo City Council for moving forward in expanding the role of solar power. These are the kinds of commitments we need to be seeing more of by elected officials and municipal governments; however, there is much more work to do at the federal level if we truly want to help build a stronger clean energy economy here in Ohio and across the country.

Unfortunately, like many other industries, America’s clean energy sector has taken a dramatic hit as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Compared with other industries, however, clean energy is taking longer to recover as well. Part of that is likely over the fact that out of the trillions of dollars in economic stimulus funding Congress passed in the aftermath of the pandemic, none has gone to supporting clean energy workers or businesses. Unfortunately, the issue of clean energy has been painted with a highly partisan brush when, in fact, it is not a political issue at all, but an economic one.

America’s clean energy sector supported around 3.3 million jobs by the end of 2019, having grown by leaps and bounds over the past decade. Since the pandemic hit, more than 450,000 of those clean energy workers are now out of a job. That includes more than 14,500 Ohio workers — or nearly 13 percent. In order to power a stronger economic recovery here in Ohio and nationwide, we need to get these folks back on the job and continue to support our clean energy work force.

I know Sen. Rob Portman understands the importance of developing all domestic forms of energy, including wind and solar as well as the economic impact these investments can have on Ohio businesses, schools, and residents. It is my hope that he will use his leadership position in the Senate to help ensure Congress passes a post-pandemic economic plan that invests in America’s clean energy infrastructure.

It is time to stop thinking of clean energy in partisan term. Conservatives like Senator Portman can and should be a powerful advocate for pro-growth energy solutions help get hard-working Ohioans back on the job while ensuring Ohio is able to continue reaping the economic and community benefits of clean and renewable energy.

Jerry Zielke is past president of the Northwest Ohio Regional Economic Development.