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Despite low energy prices, the renewables market remains strong, jobs-rich
Eli Dile   on Monday, March 27, 2017 at 12:00:00 am

Even with the price of energy falling across the board and a new, pro-fossil fuel presidential administration, energy watchers are, for the most part, unconcerned about the future of renewable energy (Stateline). In 2015, 13.3 percent of all energy generated in the United States came from renewable sources, up from 7.7 percent in 2001. Last year, jobs in the solar industry surpassed those in oil and gas extraction for the first time in U.S. history (Bloomberg).

Many states, including traditionally pro-extraction ones, are expected to renew or enhance policies that support the development of solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, and other forms of clean energy. These policies include net-metering laws, which allow residential and commercial actors with solar panels to sell excess energy back to the grid, and renewable portfolio standards, which mandate the percent of energy produced in a state from green sources. (Twenty-nine states currently have RPSs.)

For states, the economic development justification is just as salient as the environmental one. Iowa was one of the first movers in the wind energy game, enacting a renewable energy mandate in 1997, and has seen a healthy ROI ever since (Yale Environment 360). Iowa now leads the nation with the highest share of its energy portfolio coming from wind power (31 percent), and is second only to Texas in terms of total wind energy output. The sector employs about 7,000 Iowans and has helped attract $10 billion in capital investment. This competitive advantage has been noticed by environmentally conscious Silicon Valley giants: Google, Microsoft, and Facebook have all opened data centers in Iowa to access its green grid.

Neither has cheap energy derailed the pursuit of renewables among private companies (CoreNet Global). "It is a very active topic, but it may not be driven as much by cost and cost savings as it has in the past," according to Karen Ellzey of consulting firm Global Workplace Solutions. "I think it is going to be driven more by regulatory issues and companies' perspectives on how this is going to support their broader brand and social responsibility objectives."

A 2016 survey of U.S. corporations by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 72 percent were actively pursuing renewable energy procurement, and 85 percent indicated they planned to make additional purchases in the next 18 months.  

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