The solutions to the energy crisis and relief for unemployment woes can all be found across the pond in Europe, according to a July 22 panel at the Center for American Progress.
The panel, including two U.S. experts on both alternative energy and green building and two European officials, discussed energy policy in great detail, and were particularly interested in the application of alternative energy policy in Europe here in the United States.
While the event promised to be a discussion of solutions to global warming, and the policies discussed could certainly have been painted as such, the panelists spoke very little about the effect their proposed policies would have on global climate.
More central to the event were the economic impacts of new and expanded alternative energy policies and how these revised policies would alleviate the energy crisis facing the United States. The distinction between actual and predicted benefits became blurred in the presentation.
Also left vague in the discussion was the source of capital for this emerging alternative energy market. The question of whether it is subsidized by the government or fueled by private investment got no easy answers.
“We are getting a greater return on renewables than fossil fuels,” said Rhone Resch, the president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, “The research potential is absolutely enormous.”
Resch believes that former Vice President Al Gore’s stated goal of having the United States’ entire energy supply provided by alternative energies within ten years is well within reach, saying, “We can do it.”
Perhaps the most interesting commentary of the panel was related to the potential impact of alternative energy on the U.S. economy.
Silke Malorny, Senior Advisor to a Member of the European Parliament, Rebecca Harms, discussed the ways that alternative energy policies have opened up new employment opportunities in Germany.
“The 250,000 people employed in wind is more than twice that of nuclear and coal power combined,” Malorny said in reference to the German energy industry.
Others in the panel also supported the belief that a changeover from a fossil fuel powered industry to one more focused on alternative energy sources would help stimulate the economy and create new job opportunities.
Resch added, “The U.S. is already a net exporter of solar energy. You could create market here that would drive millions and millions of jobs.”
He also cited that Michigan’s 4th congressional district, that has lost 10,000 manufacturing jobs, has added 2,000 alternative energy jobs, a number which he expected would increase with a broader alternative energy industry. Resch expects that expanding the use of alternative energy here in the United States would open up job markets in states across the union.
While there was certainly much glowing talk about the future of alternative energy in the United States and the benefits it could bring, the panel admitted that along with it would come an initial increase in the cost of energy. Malorny said that the cost of energy in Germany rose 3% with the increased use of wind and solar power, but that this initial rise could be expected to decrease over time.
Eduardo Santos, Deputy Head of the Portuguese delegation to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also downplayed this development, saying that energy costs were rising regardless.