Winning the Race for Renewable Energy

09/29/2010 07:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

As a professional IndyCar driver, I know just how important it is to be fast. But in order to achieve victory, you must also invest in cutting edge technology and develop a strategy designed to win the race. The same can be said for scientific innovation, and today, the United States is competing with countries all around the world in the development of renewable fuel sources and green technology.

When it comes to alternative energy sources, I am most familiar with ethanol because my IndyCar runs on that alternative fuel. Pure ethanol powers my IndyCar to speeds over 230mph safely and reliably. It not only works, it performs at the highest levels of competition.

In the United States, corn is the primary resource used to produce ethanol. The biofuels industry creates nearly 400,000 American jobs, mostly in rural areas where employment opportunities are desperately needed. Ethanol also reduces carbon monoxide and other toxic emissions from vehicles, thereby causing less air pollution. Finally, by using a homegrown, renewable resource we lower the amount of fossil fuels we burn. This reduces the amount of oil we need to pump out of the ground or import from unstable regions and nations that don't have our best interests at heart.

America isn't alone in trying to reap the rewards from investments in green technologies. The largest ethanol industry is in Brazil, one of the emerging superpowers in the global economy.

When it comes to investment in all types of renewable energy, China leads the way. In 2009, almost $35 billion in private money was invested in Chinese renewable energy projects; the U.S. lags well behind with only $19 billion.

Continuing our nation's investment in ethanol is one way we can challenge our global competitors. In 2004, Congress enacted the Volumetric Ethanol Excise Tax Credit to help support the growth of ethanol production in the U.S. This tax credit expires at the end of the year. If Congress doesn't extend the tax credit, many American ethanol producers could simply go out of business. At the same time, federal laws will still require that ethanol be blended into every gallon of gasoline sold in the U.S. This just means we may have to start importing ethanol from other producing countries. Shouldn't we be looking after American farmers and American energy companies?

You know what the most important part is in a racecar? The one that's worn or broken, because it keeps you from winning the checkered flag. And if you're not continually investing in upgrading your technology, then chances are your car will not perform at its best, and you will find yourself looking down the tailpipes of your competitors.

America needs to be a leader in the clean energy economy of the future. If we are serious about winning this race, now is not the time to take our foot off the pedal. We need to keep supporting our domestic biofuels industry by extending the ethanol tax credit. If there is one lesson we should have learned in the last few years, it's that if we don't make the necessary investments in new technologies and grow new industries, our competition will. The race is ours to win. But if the ethanol tax credit expires this year on December 31st, we'll know which part to blame.

Jeff Simmons is a driver in the IndyCar series, has competed in four Indianapolis 500 races, and has long been an advocate for renewable energy. Watch for him in the 100th running of the Indy 500 in May, 2011.