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Heinrich: U.S. Innovation Will Lead the Way

Innovation is what America does best. Whether it is the Apollo Project to the moon, developing the most advanced defense technologies available, the rise of the Internet or the latest advancements in biomedical gene therapies, our nation leads the world in transformative innovations. We are now at a tipping point in advancing our nation’s energy independence, and I believe that we have the opportunity to lead with a 21st-century clean energy economy.

As a mechanical engineering student during the early 1990s, I helped build a solar-powered car that we raced across part of the United States. At that point, Americans had just started to take interest in renewable energy development. However, with cheap gasoline, our country grew complacent, and supporters of clean energy development were often ignored.

Today, our economy rises and falls with the unpredictable price of oil. Americans increasingly understand that clean energy is more than just an environmental issue. It is crucial to reducing our dangerous dependence on foreign countries.

Our investments in clean energy including solar, wind and nuclear energy, energy efficiency and emerging technologies are critical to creating quality American jobs. Studies show that investments in clean energy create three times as many jobs as investments in fossil fuels. Clean energy legislation, such as the American Clean Energy Security Act and the investments made by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will preserve our manufacturing base and protect consumers. Together, those bills increase investments in clean energy by $150 billion across the nation.

Combined, ACES and the Recovery Act would increase solar energy production twentyfold. That’s especially encouraging in my home state of New Mexico, which averages more than 300 days of sunshine each year and is second in the nation for solar energy production potential. Even during the economic downturn, local companies such as Visible Light Solar Technologies and larger international companies such as Schott Solar are planning to hire hundreds of new employees in central New Mexico to respond to the growing demand. This clean energy job growth earned Albuquerque a second-place ranking in Kiplinger magazine’s 2009 listing of cities leading the country’s economic recovery in key job growth areas like renewable energy.

We need to do everything in our power to clear the way for renewable energy development. Last year, I authored the Clean Energy Promotion Act to fast-track some 200 solar energy projects, 25 wind energy projects and 200 wind energy production test sites that are on hold because the Bureau of Land Management didn’t have the resources to evaluate their applications. Those kinds of bottlenecks should not stand in the way of growing thousands of jobs in our clean energy economy. CEPA would create a dedicated funding stream from existing rental payments paid by wind and solar developers so that the BLM can eliminate the current backlog and facilitate future projects. This bill would provide a steady funding source and dedicate up to $5 million per year from existing rental payments paid by wind and solar developers for projects on BLM lands. Doing so is a long-term, common-sense investment in America’s energy leadership.

As a nation, we’re at a crossroads on clean energy leadership. Europe deployed 13 times more solar photovoltaic power than the U.S. last year. Germany has the solar exposure of Alaska yet has become a world leader in solar energy production, with nearly half of the global photovoltaic market. For the first time, in 2009 China spent more than the United States on clean energy investments.

When it comes to renewable energy, there’s no reason America should settle for second best.

I believe America can lead this clean energy enterprise through innovation. The faster we invest in our ability to export clean energy resources and manufacturing, the faster we’ll achieve comprehensive energy independence and spur long-term economic growth. We can end the serious economic and national security risks associated with reliance on foreign oil and create jobs in the United States. We can promote a speedy economic recovery and lay the foundation for lasting prosperity. We can compete internationally because innovation is what America does best.

Rep. Martin Heinrich is a Democrat from New Mexico.

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