North Carolina is facing troubling and uncertain times. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, and public health measures rightfully have been put in place to slow the spread, a wide array of industries are in a tailspin, and tens of thousands are out of work.
North Carolinians are hurting right now. The economic stimulus package recently passed by Congress should help. But more help will likely be needed down the road.
Additional stimulus measures should focus on areas where new jobs can be created quickly once the bell rings and Americans can go back to work. We have an opportunity to do that — to put people back to work — while building a sustainable future by creating jobs in clean energy infrastructure, clean transportation and energy efficiency.
Congress could make this vision a reality through a national green bank, or clean energy fund. Green banks leverage public capital to mobilize private investment in clean energy projects. Creation of an independent, nonprofit green bank, or National Climate Bank, has been proposed in House and Senate bills and the idea has earned bipartisan support in the past. As Congress considers additional stimulus measures in the wake of the pandemic, it should include creation of a National Climate Bank to finance clean infrastructure and construction jobs across the United States. Our research shows that $35 billion invested in such a bank will create more than 5 million jobs over five years.
Why should North Carolinians care about this at a time of crisis such as this one? Because green banks are proven models for creating jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions while serving low-to-moderate income, rural and vulnerable communities. While the National Climate Bank could finance projects that are regional or national in scope, it could also provide capital to state and local green banks better suited to finance smaller local projects.
And North Carolina is uniquely poised to take advantage of investment from such a green bank.
North Carolina’s Clean Energy Plan recommends development of a statewide green bank to catalyze development of clean energy markets by connecting private capital with clean energy projects. With the assistance of the Coalition for Green Capital and Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, North Carolina stakeholders have already started to assess the market opportunities for a statewide green bank.
Some time soon — not tomorrow, but not a year from now — we’ll be able to go back to work. North Carolina’s economy and workforce will be forever changed by this crisis. The state has been a leader in clean energy workforce development for years. A 2019 report from the state Department of Commerce outined opportunities for continued growth in the state’s clean economy workforce. Funding from the National Climate Bank would enable the state to capitalize on those clean energy workforce opportunities, providing desperately needed jobs and investment right away while putting us on a course for a more sustainable future.
Thousands of North Carolinians badly need jobs right now. Let’s put them back to work. And let’s do so by creating good jobs that build a sustainable future for all of us.
Jennifer Weiss is a senior policy associate in the Climate and Energy Program at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. Jeffrey Schub is executive director of the Coalition for Green Capital.