A recent Harris poll of 2,848 adults in January lays a common misconception to rest by showing that Americans don't stop caring about environmental problems during challenging financial times. According to the research, half of Americans surveyed don't see a conflict between fixing the financial crisis and focusing on the environment at the same time:
"Half of Americans (51%) believe economic and environmental goals are often aligned while 31% believe one must choose between these two goals. Reflecting the historic confusion on this issue, almost one in five Americans (18%) are not at all sure." - Harris Interactive (pdf)
In fact, 66% of the poll participants think the U.S. government should be more environmentally conscious than it was a year ago.
Closer to my own home, results for the western U.S. show a majority of residents (58%) support focusing on the economy and only 33% think environmental issues should stay at the same level as economic growth. Here along the Colorado Front Range, however, local government and industry seem committed to proving the economic wisdom and long-term pay-offs of alternative energy.
Back in late 2007, Governor Bill Ritter announced a state Climate Action Plan to cut 20% of state greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Before that, Colorado voters passed the landmark Amendment 37 in 2004, requiring the state's major utilities to use renewables for 3 percent of output by 2007 and 10 percent by 2015, jumpstarting Colorado's profile as a leader in solar energy.
Colorado isn't immune to current dismal unemployment statistics in the U.S., especially after posting a 6.1% unemployment rate in December, but alternative energy has been responsible for at least some job creation. According to Environment Colorado's Matt Garrington in January:
"Renewable energy and energy efficiency have already created over 88,000 jobs in Colorado." - Boulder County Business Report
Beyond jobs, a good case study for providing economic and climate-friendly solutions at the same time lies in Xcel Energy's current project to turn Boulder, CO into a smart-grid city. Through up-to-the-minute digital monitoring and operations, Xcel plans to cut operating costs, give more control to customers over their own power usage and monitoring capabilities, and reduce the inefficiencies that drive up emissions rates. Check out some of the savings:
"Reduced costs associated with improved meter reading efficiency - representing 50% in potential operational savings over manually and interval read meters.
Reduced O&M impacts associated with call center -representing $1 million in annual operational savings
Recovery of lost revenue and reduced costs associated with theft investigation - representing up to $10 to $20 million in annual savings and recovery
Remote Disconnects/Reconnects - representing up to $5 to $10 million in annual savings from not sending a technician." - Xcel Energy SmartGridCity Benefits Hypothesis Summary
Not only will saving millions of dollars in operating costs benefit the consumer in the long run, but customers will also be able to monitor and control their own power usage during times of peak and off-peak rates.
As for the environmental benefits of a smart grid system, Xcel projects possible reduction in annual CO2 emissions of one million tons through reduced customer usage and 500,000 tons through a reduction in inefficiency-related system losses. Plug-in electric cars and solar panels will be able to plug power back into the system, too.
Back on the national level, consultants at A.T. Kearny just published a "Green" Winners report on 16 out of 18 industries in which companies that choose sustainable practices and/or products actually perform better than conventional businesses, even in this economy:
"These companies don't just focus on maximizing quarterly returns, but look at strategies of at least 5 years that take into account changing regulatory, demographic and environmental conditions. They are also prone to invest in increased efficiency, reducing their operating costs and their environmental impact. The returns on such thinking may not be immediate, but the right investors will see the long-term value of such a strategy." - Sustainablog
Finally, a look to the future. Connections between economic growth and environmental progress are under close scrutiny as environmentalists look to keep plans intact even during financially fragile times and as President Obama focuses on U.S. energy and transportation and an emerging green jobs market in the economic stimulus. For Colorado, it's a combination that bodes well for the future:
"The state has the potential for the renewable-energy and energy-efficiency industries to create 613,000 jobs and $61.5 billion in annual revenue by 2030, according to a report last week from [the American Solar Energy Society]." - Daily Camera