The global energy picture must change, and our economy with it. It shouldn't take a catastrophe like the one still unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico or war in the Middle East to signal to Americans that our fossil fuel dependency harms our economy, wounds our environment and compromises our national security.
A complete change can't happen overnight; we can't just turn off the oil spigot or stop using coal-based electricity. But starting today we urgently need to switch to cleaner and more effective energy alternatives. And that transition simply can't occur at the scale we need without strong and consistent national leadership in the form of comprehensive energy policy.
For New Bedford and Massachusetts, this transition is a golden opportunity, not something to fear. Our state has long been at the leading edge of innovation and research and is well positioned to benefit from changes already occurring in the energy sector. For decades, our world-class research institutions and high-tech sector have adapted and re-adapted in leading the world on everything from textiles to advanced medicine to personal computers, including right here in New Bedford.
Currently, we're second only to California in clean technology capital investments. As a member of an early-stage investment consortium, Clean Energy Venture Group, we fund clean energy start-ups here ranging from fuel cell manufacturers to specialists in energy efficiency and renewable energy, like wind power. This creates jobs, improves our energy situation and stimulates the local economy in many ways.
Other Massachusetts companies, including my company, GreatPoint Energy, with a major testing facility in Somerset, and other companies with facilities in New Bedford, are leading the clean energy drive. Make no mistake: These are the jobs of the future.
Massachusetts has taken action on energy policy by enacting the Green Communities Act, which was supported by our new U.S. senator, Scott Brown. Now we need Brown and the rest of the New England delegation to support strong national energy and climate policy and take the Massachusetts experience to the rest of the nation and speed our transition to a clean energy economy.
Comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation would send the message that it's time to get moving on the future. The word "comprehensive" is critical here. Strong legislation must address both energy and climate concerns if we're to effectively address carbon emissions and speed our country's entry into the red-hot global race to build clean energy industries.
That race holds the key to much of America's future prosperity. Countries from China to Germany to Brazil and even Denmark are seizing the lead in those industries as we speak. We dare not let them capture these markets if we wish to be part of that future - and to hasten our own exit from the worst economic downturn in three generations.
Some in Congress speak of an energy-only bill - one that doesn't fully address carbon emissions - but addressing carbon with a cap and price on emissions is the proverbial foundation of the house when it comes to repairing our energy problems. We can't emit harmful gases that impact our environment for free any more than we can ignore the true costs of deep-sea oil drilling or financial impropriety.
A comprehensive bill would be a boon to our state. It could create up to 40,000 skilled clean energy jobs in the next 10 years, bolstering average household incomes. The energy efficiency provisions of the bill that have already passed the U.S. House of Representatives could save Massachusetts households an average of $190 annually by reducing their electricity and natural gas bills.
There's another lesson in this for New Bedford - one from history. Often, clusters of businesses form when like-minded companies locate near one another. One hundred fifty years ago, New Bedford's dynamic whaling industry created jobs not just for whalers but for shipbuilders, fishermen and the many manufacturers of whale-based products, all while making New Bedford a hub of international trade. Today, we have a chance to lead again by embracing the next big driver of global industry: clean energy.
And catching up with the rest of the world in clean energy isn't just an environmental or economic issue. Our current policies keep the United States addicted to foreign oil, with implications for our soldiers and endangering our businesses' bottom lines with price volatility and uncertainty. Our global competitors are increasing their productivity and reducing the many risks associated with fossil fuels.
That's why the "comprehensive" part of energy and climate legislation matters. Reworking our energy policies in tandem with addressing climate change will give our businesses the comprehensive transparency, certainty and longevity needed to build a cleaner and more sustainable future. It's time for the U.S. Senate to act. I hope our new Sen. Brown, who says he wants to empower Massachusetts businesses, is listening.
This op-ed was originally published in South Coast Today.