Bold investments in clean energy and transportation infrastructure will help lead us out of a recession

Apr 28, 2020 | Economy

By Brett Hauser | Special to CalMatters

As our leaders in Washington look to create a jobs program focused on national infrastructure investments to sustain the U.S. economy, their decisions will significantly impact our economic future, including the industries that will — and will not — receive a lifeline through federal stimulus dollars.

Investing in national infrastructure is an American success story that has historically led the way out of our most challenging economies and into leadership positions for long-term growth. Investments during the Great Depression gave us the interstate highway system, bridges and post offices, as well as bringing low-cost energy to rural areas. This infrastructure system became the backbone of our modern post-war economy.

Bold stimulus investments in cutting-edge energy and transportation infrastructure can help lead us out of the presumed recession we are now in and build the foundation for long-term resilience. Federal stimulus investments can and must get people back to work, invest in American technological and manufacturing leadership, and protect against future volatility from international energy markets, supply chain challenges and climate change.

Following the Great Recession of 2008, Congress made a similar commitment to jobs and clean energy. We invested in renewable energy, clean transportation, grid modernization, energy storage, job training and manufacturing that catalyzed new industries.

The Smart Grid Investment Program leveraged more than $9.5 billion in industry capital to strengthen cybersecurity, reduce operating costs, and develop new energy management innovation. The DOE Loan Guarantee program proved the viability of utility-scale renewable energy with the first five solar projects over 100 megawatts in the United States, leading to Wall Street investment in an industry that supports 250,000 jobs and has catapulted the U.S. toward decarbonizing its energy systems.

The stimulus also invested in U.S. car manufacturers, with national defense implications that are clear during this public health crisis. Tesla, Ford and General Motors, which all received and repaid government support during the last recession, are repurposing their U.S. manufacturing facilities to produce ventilators, respirators and face shields.

Investments in the “Super Truck” at Daimler, Peterbilt and other leading truck manufacturers kept American factory doors open 10 years ago when truck sales were cratering. These investments spurred rapid development of the freight efficiency technologies now used by trucking companies that keep our grocery shelves stocked and also deliver diapers, formula and new crayons for the families self-isolating at home.

This national emergency underscores how supporting clean energy and transportation are down payments with a return on investment for the future. These investments are not without some risk: there will be Tesla-like successes and Solyndra-like failures along the way, but the overall clean energy portfolio approach from the last stimulus has paid dividends: the Loan Guarantee Program achieved profitability in 2014, even when accounting for its highly publicized losses.

We also invested in the leading renewable energy, electric car, electric truck and energy management companies that enable resilient responses to crises ranging from food deliveries in a time of COVID-19 to energy deliveries in a carbon-constrained world.

Meeting our carbon and emission reduction targets requires investment in the electrical grid, transportation infrastructure and skills training. Not only are these investments a smart use of taxpayer dollars, but it’s also a responsible investment in ongoing technological leadership in an electric and clean energy future.  We can do good things for the economy, for the workforce and for our resiliency by doing good things for the environment in a socially responsible way.

We can find a silver lining to the country’s current economic challenge with a significant investment in resiliency by supporting domestic clean energy production that powers our homes, businesses and vehicles.

Smart infrastructure is a vital opportunity to link renewables, storage, vehicles and even conventional energy generation in an optimized, efficient system that better protects us from national disasters, supports a local workforce and builds the foundation of a more competitive, resilient economy.

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Brett Hauser is an advanced clean mobility startup executive based in Los Angeles and the former CEO of Greenlots, an electric vehicle infrastructure provider, bhauser@sdcapital.net. Hauser wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.

The author wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.

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