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Let’s Stop Equating Environmental Reforms With Economic Stagnation

Deep Patel Gigawatt Inc
July 21, 2014
President Barack Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency recently unveiled its highly anticipated proposal to curb power plant emissions.
Meanwhile, some people remain thoroughly convinced that climate change has no connection with power plant emissions. As the cornerstone of Obama’s climate change policy, this proposal is now met with adamant opposition.

I suggest that we stop wasting time debating the sources of climate change and focus on the economic and health benefits that this proposal brings to our country.

By moving forward with Obama’s proposal, renewable energy will displace 30 percent of fossil fuel power generation by 2030. This will create American jobs, allow us to breathe cleaner air, and safeguard our most precious resource: fresh drinking water.

President Barack Obama touts the future of solar energy in 2009 at a Las Vegas event.

Water may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of power plants, but the two are closely intertwined. Most power plants boil water to generate steam that spins electricity-generating turbines—and water is often used to cool that steam. A typical coal or nuclear power plant may withdraw 400 million gallons of water a day from lakes, rivers, or aquifers—losing several million gallons of that water to evaporation.

Of the world’s freshwater supplies, only about 0.3 percent is on the surface and easily accessible. Why should we waste so much of this precious resource generating power when solar panels barely use any water whatsoever?

The solar industry is one of the fastest-growing industries in the nation, offering tremendous opportunities for workers from all backgrounds. The Solar Foundation’s National Solar JobsCensus 2013 found that the U.S. solar industry employed 142,698 Americans as of November 2013. According to the Census, solar employment grew 10 times faster than the national average employment rate of 1.9 percent. To give that figure some perspective, there are now more solar workers than coal miners.

Coal-fired power plants pollute the air with a caustic mixture of metals, chemicals, and acid droplets. This is a direct by-product of burning fossil fuels and one of the most deadly air pollutants.

Unsurprisingly, exposure to this kind of pollution is linked to premature death and other health problems. According to the American Lung Association’s Sick of Sootreport, stronger emissions standards could prevent up to 35,700 premature deaths, 23,290 visits to the emergency room, and 2.7 million days of missed work or school due to air pollution-caused ailments every year.  Asthma is the4th leading cause of workplace absence, resulting in 15 million lost workdays at a cost of $3 billion per year.

Overall, allowing high levels of coal pollution to continue may well result in more than $100 billion in annual health costs.

In 2006, I started a solar energy company out of my garage that has grown into a multi-million dollar organization. I help my customers build cost-effective solar power systems that reliably generate electricity that’s cheaper than buying from the utility company. Moreover, solar power is a safe investment with returns that exceed the S&P 500. Solar creates American jobs that cannot be outsourced. Solar power makes so much financial sense that Wal-Mart has installed solar panels on over 100 of their stores in California.

Meanwhile, critics are claiming the president’s plan will kill jobs and hurt the economy. Not only are they perpetuating the false choice between our environment and the economy, they fail to address the fact that the rest of the world is creating jobs and providing their countries massive opportunities to build the energy infrastructure of the future. By protecting the dirty energy industry, naysayers of stronger environmental regulations are pouring our economic and environmental future down the drain.

The nation that leads on solar energy will lead the next economic boom, and I want that country to be the United States. Action on climate change is the first step toward making that happen.

Deep Patel is the founder and CEO of GigaWatt, Inc., a solar energy company that serves residential, government, and non-profit entities.

Let’s Stop Equating Environmental Reforms With Economic Stagnation was originally published on Ideas Lab