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Steve Westly

Steve Westly

Posted: February 5, 2010 01:21 PM

Clean Energy is Key to California's Future

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Yesterday will either be remembered as a funny aberration or the moment the flat earth society changed the course of California and perhaps American history. Yesterday, a coalition of well-heeled industrial interests launched a ballot initiative to suspend California's landmark energy and climate security law (AB 32). We might laugh and discount them but that would be unwise. They have money and power and given the current economic environment, they can prey on fear and insecurity.

Those who oppose AB 32 are thinking about quarterly earnings reports, not about the long-term viability of our economy and the welfare of our state. Their goal is to prevent California from transitioning to a clean energy economy because they are deeply invested in fossil fuels. What is their message? The status quo is safe.

But is it? Leaving climate change aside, the projected trajectories of energy demand and fossil fuel supply mean that prices will continue to be volatile and ever higher. Our nation's most distinguished retired military leaders have called our current dependence on fossil fuels an urgent national security risk - economically, militarily and diplomatically.

China is investing 12.6 million dollars every hour in clean energy technology. Why? Because they recognize an opportunity when they see it. Energy, by revenue, is the largest sector of the global economy. Clean energy technology, like the last breakout technology revolution - information technology - is a multibillion-dollar market. Part of China's opposition to international climate agreements is because every minute of delay means they gain a greater edge.

Democracy is messy. We cannot establish our technology supremacy by fiat. Instead, we need policies that create market certainty. AB 32 provides that certainty. After the law was passed in 2006, clean energy venture capital investment began pouring into our state at an unprecedented rate. In 2007 nearly $1.8 billion were invested in California clean tech companies - almost a 50 percent increase over the year before. While 2009 was a year of depressed investment - California still led the nation with $2.1 billion in clean tech venture capital investments.

Today, green jobs represent the most vibrant sector of our economy. According to the latest data, they have continued to grow even as other sectors have contracted. Interestingly, the clean energy sector has the potential to create more manufacturing jobs, and more opportunities at every income and education level, than any other industry in California. Clean technology already rivals the biotechnology and software industries in job creation for Californians.

To delay or suspend AB 32 will eliminate thousands of jobs in California. Venture capital investment will leave the state and emerging businesses will close their doors. This is a critical moment. We must continue to lead the nation, and the world, in clean technology innovation and development for the sake of our energy security and economic future.