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  1. Opinion

Castor: Clean energy will drive Florida's economy and create jobs

Published Jan. 26, 2016

Now that scientists have determined that 2015 was the hottest year on record, let's get serious about our clean energy future — and create jobs doing it.

Florida's construction and manufacturing industries have long been anchors of the state's economy, employing more than a half-million workers. These industries have steadily recovered from the recession that gripped Florida in 2007, but we can do better. Jobs in green building, solar, energy efficiency and co-generation can lead the way.

A new analysis by ICF International estimates that investing in clean energy will create 1 million new jobs in America by 2030 and 2 million jobs by 2050. In Florida, 109,000 new jobs tied to clean energy construction and manufacturing will be created by 2030, and 206,000 jobs by 2050.

Solar energy will account for much of that job and economic growth. Last year alone, the solar industry created jobs 12 times faster in solar construction, installation, operations and maintenance than those created in the overall U.S. workforce. Since 2014, one out of every 83 new jobs in America is in solar energy. Solar workers already outnumber coal miners 3 to 1, and that trend will continue. Solar and wind also received a boost at year's end when Congress extended the Investment Tax Credit and Production Tax Credit for five years. The solar ITC will continue at 30 percent for facilities commencing construction before Jan. 1, 2020, adding 220,000 jobs over the next five years, including 50,000 for veterans. The PTC will remain at 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour credit until it gradually phases out by Jan. 1, 2020, adding 100,000 jobs to the economy.

Over the long term, we must also protect our jobs in tourism and counter detrimental climate impacts and rising sea levels. Otherwise, our beaches and coastal communities will require costly beach renourishment. Climate change is not a distant threat for Florida. At stake are the very beaches that millions of Floridians and tourists enjoy. We must act to avoid excessive property damage and insurance impacts, especially in Miami and Tampa Bay, which are among the top 10 regions in the world most at risk from property loss from flooding and sea level rise.

The good news is that America is always up to a challenge. Local businesses, architects and manufacturers already have started to build our clean energy economy. We know how to do it through solar energy, which has seen prices drop by 70 percent since 2009, and with energy efficiency, which is the lowest-cost source of energy.

But a more coordinated effort is called for. Early this year, I will host a Tampa Bay Clean Energy Jobs Forum to hear from local business, consumer and nonprofit leaders on the latest in clean energy jobs. This forum will include Florida green builders, electricians, HVAC experts, carpenters, roofers, insulation workers, industrial truck drivers, construction managers and building inspectors.

In December, with America in the lead, nearly 200 countries including China and India committed to reduce carbon pollution to help preserve the planet for our children and grandchildren. Let's build on this momentum.

The American people and businesses are doing their part to build a clean energy economy. Now it's time for policymakers to stand with them by laying out a plan to power our country with more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030. We already have the technology to achieve this goal, but political leaders must build on local efforts and the Paris agreement and set even more ambitious goals to cut carbon pollution.

Congress and Florida political leaders must act boldly — and quickly — to shift to more than 50 percent clean energy by 2030. By taking action, we can protect Florida's economy, create more than 100,000 jobs and put more money in Floridians' pockets.

This is our opportunity to lead this fight and become the world's clean energy superpower. It's a win-win for Florida and the nation.

U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa, is a member of the Committee on Energy and Commerce. She wrote this exclusively for the Tampa Bay Times.

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