Young conservatives flock to Washington in support of clean energy

By Roberta Combs and Tom Kiernan, Opinion Contributors

September 04, 2018 – 01:00 PM EDT

This week, hundreds on young conservatives from across the country will be visiting the nation’s capital. Their mission is to participate in a time-honored democratic tradition—making sure their elected officials hear their voices. The message these young men and women plan to convey is simple: they support clean energy, and they want to power more of America with it.

Vigorous conservative support for clean energy may come as a surprise to some, but it shouldn’t. In fact, conservative principles and clean energy align quite well. Shared common values include a belief in markets, devotion to a strong U.S. economy, and the practice of good stewardship. And many of the country’s wind leaders– like Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Kansas– have long conservative histories.

“It’s as if the markets have spoken, and they’ve chosen wind,” Michael Webber, deputy director of the energy institute at the University of Texas at Austin, recently declared.

Reality bears this out. Because wind’s costs have fallen by 67 percent since 2009, it’s the cheapest source of new electric generating capacity in many parts of the U.S. In response to a recent call for new power in Colorado, wind energy led the way, clocking the lowest median bid by a substantial margin. And that low-cost electricity is good for American businesses—cheap power gives them an important competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

Low-cost renewable energy also creates new economic opportunities in rural areas across the U.S. Access to renewables like wind and solar drive the decision making process at companies like GM, Home Depot, Apple, and Facebook, all buyers of wind power for their factories, stores and data centers.

In announcing plans to build a 400,000 square foot, $1.3 billion data center Apple CEO Tim Cook said Iowa’s renewable energy resource was “paramount for us” and “if we couldn’t [procure renewables], we would not be here.”

When Apple or Facebook decide to build new data centers in rural parts of states like Iowa or New Mexico because they can power them with renewables, it creates a whole new category of jobs in the surrounding community.

Wind and solar projects built in rural areas also create new jobs during construction and operation. For example, solar installer and wind technician are the two fastest growing jobs in America, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In all, over 105,000 American spread across all 50 states have wind-powered careers, many of them at the more than 500 U.S. factories that build wind-related parts.

Renewable energy projects also bring substantial new revenue streams to rural communities. Farmers and ranchers with wind projects on their land now have an important new cash crop—the wind. They were paid $267 million in lease payments in 2017 alone for hosting wind turbines. That income can mean the difference between continuing a multi-generation tradition and ending a way of life. New wind tax revenue also helps pay for road repairs, fund law enforcement and schools improvements.

Lastly, good stewardship is an important conservative value, and clean energy like wind power helps our country put this value into practice. By cutting air pollution that creates smog and triggers asthma attacks, wind energy created $8 billion in public health benefits in 2017 alone. It offers a way to generate affordable, reliable and importantly clean electricity for millions of American families and businesses.

Conservative grassroots supporters from across the country already know these things, and now they’re coming to Washington to share those beliefs with their representatives. There’s no question—clean energy is creating a better today and tomorrow for all Americans, and that’s a story these young folks can’t wait to tell.

Roberta Combs is President & CEO of the Christian Coalition and Tom Kiernan is CEO of the American Wind Energy Association.