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Steve Westly

Steve Westly

Posted: October 28, 2010 07:14 PM

This piece was coauthored by George Wagner.

As Californians, we have two clear paths before us - one as a leader in clean technology and the other as a follower.

These two paths coincide with the gubernatorial campaign between Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman. Even today, as California continues to battle the effects of the great recession, it still remains a leader in clean technology. But this leadership is in jeopardy if we don't elect Jerry Brown.

Jerry Brown already has a successful resume in fostering a clean energy future. When he took office in 1975 he brought Republicans and Democrats together to create the state's first real wind energy industry. He presided over development of the Wind Energy Section of the California Energy Commission, and made sure it was properly funded and staffed with people who were knowledgeable about what was needed to get this completely new industry off the ground.

In other words, this was California's Apollo project.

The target for the wind energy program was to produce 10% of the state's electricity. Brown knew the success of this goal relied upon entrepreneurs and innovation. He worked with the state legislature to create a tax credit to encourage new businesses to take chances developing technology in this cutting-edge industry.

In addition to the tax credit, Brown's backing brought about construction of the first wind farm in the world. Over 14,000 turbines were installed in three locations within the state, and soon the eyes of the world turned to California. After struggling to launch its own wind energy industry, European countries soon looked to Brown's model to help foster their own development.

Unfortunately, California failed to remain a leader in this arena. After Brown left office, George Deukmejian defunded the program and reversed the progress that had been made. What followed were two lost decades and the systematic destruction of California's leadership in this innovative industry. Today, Denmark has replaced California as the worldwide leader and home to some of the biggest and best wind turbine companies.

Unfortunately, history may now repeat itself. California has seen a resurgence in its clean technology industries, due in large part to the forward-looking policies in the landmark Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32).

While both Jerry Brown and Meg Whitman have announced their opposition to Proposition 23, which would suspend implementation of AB 32, Whitman has, in a bizarre contradiction, promised to suspend AB 32 for at least one year if she is elected.

Meanwhile, Jerry Brown has promised to move forward with swift implementation and has put forth a plan to create 500,000 new green jobs.

Wind energy is a key part of Jerry Brown's plan. According to the Renewable Energy Policy Project, every 1,000 megawatts generated from a wind turbine has the potential to create 4,300 jobs -- 3,000 in manufacturing, 700 in installation, and 600 in operations. California currently leads other states in potential investment and turbine manufacturing capacity if it chooses to foster this crucial industry.

Today, due to Jerry Brown's leadership, wind energy is becoming mainstream. As other clean technologies become commonplace, who we elect as our next governor will determine whether California remains at the forefront of leadership and innovation in this vital area.

Steve Westly served as California State Controller from 2003 to 2007. He is currently Managing Partner of The Westly Group, a clean technology venture capital firm. George Wagner is the co-founder and President of Wind Harvest International, and is a co-founder and former president of the California League of Conservation Voters.