Putting the US on a Path to Clean Energy, One City at a Time

on October 03, 2013 at 4:00 PM

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Local chambers of commerce have shaped the economic vitality of cities and towns for more than a century. Every day, businesses large and small turn to local chambers for guidance and support. Economic development organizations collaborate and sometimes merge with their local chambers, tapping into their unique knowledge of their communities’ strengths, challenges and needs.

Today it is only natural that these local chambers are using all of their formidable assets to help businesses and communities meet shared challenges in our energy landscapes: volatile energy prices, global competition in manufacturing and technology development and aging electric grids. Time and again, clean energy has proven to be a practical and profitable solution for these chambers and their member companies.

In fact, local chambers are becoming unprecedented clean energy and innovation leaders. Some chambers have tackled enormous hurdles, such as leading the charge to modernize Chicago’s outdated electricity grid. Some have focused on increasing energy efficiency on a company-by-company basis, providing consulting to small businesses in places like Cleveland, Ohio, and Bartlett, Tennessee. Still others like Raleigh, North Carolina, and Austin, Texas, have sought to attract investment in renewable energy infrastructure and the manufacturer of new clean energy technologies.

What is true in all cases is that chambers can help its member companies better navigate and prosper in the clean energy space. Even chambers known for coal and oil have members that recognize the bottom-line benefits of energy efficiency. And it is not only local chambers that understand the money-saving potential of energy efficiency. Tom Donahue, President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has described energy efficiency as a “damn good hedge,” adding that energy efficiency is “the most economically viable alternative energy.”

For local chambers, the economic benefits of clean energy extend far beyond individual towns and cities. Global clean energy markets are growing rapidly and will be supplied by the countries that prioritize innovation and clean energy. Surely every local chamber wants to see American companies supply these global markets. As a nation, that leaves us with a critical choice. We can either enhance our global technological leadership in innovation and clean energy – increasing U.S. business competitiveness and strengthening our economy with new jobs in manufacturing, construction and clean-tech development – or we can cede our technological leadership and the global clean energy markets to others.

Local chamber executives know that American business can and should win the global clean energy race. We are ready to champion bold initiatives and expect to be at the table in local, regional and national policy discussions on our energy future.

Since 2010, Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy has helped local chambers throughout the country navigate the clean energy space. We work with over 370 member chambers to engage in economic development opportunities associated with renewable energy, smart grids, electric vehicles, high-speed rail, energy efficiency and shipping efficiency. We’re proud of our members and featured 10 chambers’ trailblazing initiatives in our May 2013 publication, “Local Chambers as Change Agents: Creating Economic Vitality Through Clean Energy Innovation”.

Many of the chambers highlighted in our report are traveling to Washington, D.C., this week to participate in meetings on Capitol Hill with Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle. We’re excited to communicating how chambers are leading in the energy space and anticipate a spirited conversation with the people charged with developing America’s clean energy path.

We look forward to telling the story of the Traverse City Area Chamber of Commerce of Michigan, which launched an Energy Efficiency Revolving Loan fund that has reduced utility costs for area businesses and, since 2012, has saved enough electricity to power a half-million households for a month.

And the story of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce in North Carolina, which has created a “smart grid cluster” that is attracting more investment to the region. “We’ve learned that private-public partnerships can make a huge difference for regional economies,” Michael Haley said, a Project Manager at the Raleigh Chamber. “We’re interested to see what other chambers are doing and how the federal government can support our initiatives.”

Local chambers of commerce are the engines of economic growth for their communities, shaping the economic vitality of cities and towns. We bring that message of economic strength to Washington today to continue to help our member businesses and communities move forward toward reliable and clean energy.

Diane Doucette is the Executive Director of Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy.