Solar installers
Credit: Kristian Buus / Creative Commons

When people think of clean energy, environmental benefits are usually the first that spring to mind.

Mark Pischea is the Managing Partner of Sterling Corporation, a Republican political consulting firm, and President of the Conservative Energy Network.

There’s nothing wrong with that. We all benefit from cleaner air and water, and all things being equal, Americans want pollution to be reduced.

But there’s a lesser known but equally important benefit to the clean energy revolution: a jobs boom that is boosting economic growth, creating middle class jobs, and attracting billions of dollars in new investment.

The latest Clean Jobs Midwest report shows just how important the clean energy industry is for our economy. Nearly 600,000 jobs in the Midwest have been created by the clean energy industry, and this number is growing rapidly.

While job growth overall has been pretty anemic, clean energy jobs are increasing at better than 5% a year—a growth rate that is 485% faster than the general economy. That translated into a net increase of more than 30,000 well-paying jobs in the Midwest last year alone, with more to come in the years ahead.

For years policies promoting clean energy have been at the center of an ideological battle between people who focused mainly on the environmental benefits of clean energy, and those who worried that the economic and regulatory costs were just too high to justify the expense. Predictably, opinions fell along roughly traditional ideological lines, creating hyper-politicized policy debates in state capitols across America.

The equations have changed, and with a change in the numbers and quantifiable economic benefits, a change in attitude is inevitable. No longer are we faced with a simple trade-off between environmental benefits at the expense of jobs and the economy. Instead, the right clean energy policies are helping stimulate economic growth.

Smart policymakers have seen the facts and made the connection, slowly but surely dragging clean energy policymaking out of the ideological quagmire. Clean energy is good business, and good business means good-paying jobs.

Our nation’s traditional manufacturing states are helping lead the way; Illinois and Ohio have over, 100,000 jobs linked to clean energy, with Michigan knocking at the door at 92,000, representing about 2% of today’s workforce. Even Iowa, long dominated by its agricultural industry, has gone all-in on renewables with advanced energy jobs growing 12 times faster than other jobs in the state. And with the rapid job growth, that percentage will only increase. That’s why Republican Governors including Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Ohio’s John Kasich and Iowa’s Kim Reynolds are creating innovative policies aimed at encouraging new investments in their states’ emerging clean energy economies.

The Conservative Energy Network is helping to lead the way. As conservative clean energy evangelists, we’re preaching the gospel of rapid economic growth, job creation, innovation and entrepreneurship, and a better quality of life for working people through sound policies that can accelerate our nation’s transition to cleaner energy and efficiency technologies.

Our members in the Midwest – the Michigan Conservative Energy Forum, Ohio Conservative Energy Forum and Minnesota Conservative Energy Forum – are part of a national Network working to promote true “all of the above” policies by creating greater support within the Conservative Movement for clean energy.

Our belief is that state governments should create policy frameworks that allow the marketplace to determine energy production and not, for example, government-created monopoly utilities that enjoy guaranteed profits no matter how they generate power. The reality is that new technologies, consumer demand, and a dramatic reduction in the cost of renewables (even without subsidies) are driving the energy market.

Conservatives have always believed that free markets provide better outcomes, and the evidence is clear: the market is demanding more clean energy because the economics work. And because of that fact conservative state leaders are well-equipped to reform the regulations standing in the way of America’s next economic boom.

Mark Pischea is the Managing Partner of Sterling Corporation, a Republican political consulting firm, and President of the Conservative Energy Network.