An unlikely political alliance in the Peach State has produced a big spike in solar projects.
Green employment in the U.S. is tiny, but it keeps picking up steam. In the first three months of 2015, about 40 new renewable energy and clean transportation projects were launched in 19 states, creating more than 9,800 jobs.
That’s not many, but it’s almost double the number created in the first quarter last year, notes a new report from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a nonprofit, nonpartisan business group that tracks green employment. Solar power openings grew the most, adding about 6,600 jobs nationwide — about 2,000 of them from five new projects in Georgia.
Yes, Georgia. Beating out previous frontrunners California and Texas, the state is now No. 1 in clean-energy employment growth, creating almost 1,000 more new green jobs than California, with 1,885. Texas came in third, at 1,612, followed by New Mexico, Michigan, Colorado, Virginia, Utah, Maryland, and Indiana.
Georgia’s sudden pre-eminence in solar came about in a surprising way. The politics of green energy are notoriously tricky but, almost everywhere in the U.S., environmental activism has traditionally been a hallmark of the left wing.
Not so in the Peach State, where new laws and regulations allowing solar panels on residential rooftops, among other major changes, were the work of the Green Tea Coalition. The group was founded by Debbie Dooley, a dyed-in-the-wool conservative and chair of the Atlanta Tea Party. Dooley enlisted both fellow conservatives and a range of left-leaning environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, in the cause.
Together, these odd bedfellows pushed the state legislature and the Public Service Commission to support third-party solar-panel leasing deals that make solar power far more cost-effective for homeowners and businesses. Thanks largely to pressure from the Green Tea Coalition, the Georgia House of Representatives also turned thumbs down on a fee (“We called it a tax,” says Dooley) that Georgia Power wanted to charge solar electricity users.
Asked what it was like to join forces with people whose politics generally clashed with her own, Dooley told Yale’s Environment 360 magazine, “We actually work together pretty well. We have things we disagree on, but we don’t talk about them.”
Over the next couple of years, Florida may generate a lot more green jobs. Currently, any solar power produced in the state must be sold back to the grid, and leasing solar panels is illegal.
But the Green Tea Coalition is working on an amendment to the state constitution that they plan to add to the November 2016 ballot, allowing Floridians to lease (rather than buy) panels, and letting solar-powered homes and businesses sell low-cost electricity to tenants or neighbors. If voters approve it, the measure would give companies that make and sell solar panels a whole new market in the Sunshine State.