State clean energy funds touted as source for rural development

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, January 18, 2012 -With Congress seemingly headed for another year of gridlock, renewable energy advocates say they are looking more at states to provide the leadership in clean energy development. And one of the tools they cite was underscored in a new paper released Tuesday that touts the “tremendous promise” of state clean energy funds (CEFs) to design and implement clean energy finance solutions and economic development.

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To date, more than 20 states have created a varied array of CEFs to invest in clean energy projects, with revenues often derived from small public-benefit surcharges on electric bills.

The paper, which is part of a state and metropolitan innovation project run jointly by the Brookings Institution and the Rockefeller Foundation, contends that the CEFs “offer at least one partial response to the failure of Washington to deliver a sensible clean energy development approach.” The report says conservative estimates show state CEFs have invested more than $2.7 billion in to support renewable energy markets, and leveraged another $9.7 billion in additional federal and private sector investment, with the resulting $12 billion flowing to the deployment of more than 72,000 projects in the United States. Projects range from solar installations to wind turbines, hydrokinetic projects in rivers, and biomass generation plants on farms.

But, the report argues, CEF money should move beyond projects and generate industries and economic development. Citing efforts in California, New York and Massachusetts, the paper says states can broaden the use of CEFs to “jumpstart a new, creative period of expanded clean energy economic development and industry creation, to complement and build upon individualistic project financing.”

Among the paper's recommendations is a call for states to reorient a significant portion (at least 10%) of state CEF money to clean energy-related economic development, make jobs and market data more readily available, and link their CEFs with economic development entities and other stakeholders who could be ideal partners to develop effective economic development programs.

Mark Muro, a senior fellow and policy director at Brookings, and a co-author of the paper, told Agri-Pulse that the CEFS have already innovated in helping to fund hundreds of rural and agricultural clean energy projects. “Now they stand poised to innovate again by complementing that work with a new focus on building regional rural and agricultural clean energy industries as well,” he said.


Original story printed in January 18, 2012 Agri-Pulse Newsletter.

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