A Changing (Clean) Energy Landscape

Energy is trending. Since January, Congress has introduced 415 bills pertaining to both energy and environmental protection policy. At the same time, government agencies have proposed 43 rules deemed economically significant of the same nature. Most recently, the Obama administration unveiled the final version of the Clean Power Plan which establish the first national standards to limit carbon pollution from power plants.

The plan is ambitious, aiming to reduce carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. While the federal government enforces the regulation, the onus of compliance is largely borne to the state legislators and policymakers. A number of policymakers champion the act as a huge step forward in addressing climate change, others see it as overreach of government and a “War on Coal.” Either way, the rule will create winners and losers in terms of jobs and economic growth.

According to the most recent U.S. Census data, the coal industry employed nearly 80,000 workers in 2013, the vast majority of which worked in mining production. Over half of those workers are located in just two states, Kentucky and West Virginia, while the rest are spread across the country. With upcoming gubernatorial elections happening in both of these states, the topic of EPA regulation and carbon emissions is sure to be a hot-button issue for candidates on both sides of the aisle.

On the flip side of the equation, companies in the solar and wind energy industries stand to gain from these recent rules. In 2013, clean energy generation industries employed 7,000 workers across 900 establishments, according to the U.S. Census. With recent innovations in solar panel production leading to decreased costs of implementation, solar energy providers stand to grow significantly over the next decade. Wind energy is also well positioned to grow significantly. With the implementation of the Clean Power Plan, wind energy electricity generation capacity is expected to triple by 2040, according to the Energy Information Administration, resulting in job creation and economic growth due to increased manufacturing.

In a landmark regulation such as the Clean Power Plan, effects will be felt across industries, helping some and hurting others. States will have find solutions that meet compliance, but also encourage growth. Heading into an election year, the long-term viability of clean energy as well as the economic impact of new standards is shaping up to be much more than just a talking point, it will require action.