By: Ryan Galeria, VP of Development
It’s a strange time for the energy industry. As we enter into a period of economic slowdown, we’re seeing reduced energy demand across the spectrum causing oil prices to drop dramatically since the beginning of the year. Energy as a commodity is less valuable and we’re not sure when it will increase again.
Although this is driving a lot of uncertainty in the general energy market, we’re still seeing tremendous demand for renewable energy from municipalities, utilities and large commercial customers across the country. In light of a recession, these entities need the economic benefits of renewable energy now more than ever, making it a good time to continue investing in cleaner forms of power.
Short-term benefits of renewable power
At sPower, we see the immediate economic benefits for communities firsthand when we work in regions that historically haven’t seen much energy development. For example, more rural, desert areas of the Southwest — like parts of California, Arizona and New Mexico — relied on agriculture until water became sparser and the industry dried. Introducing a utility-scale renewable energy project puts thousands of people in these areas to work, from local laborers to small business owners of shops, restaurants and hotels. Renewable energy generation opens these communities to an entirely new economy and gets local residents and businesses back to work.
Long-term renewable power benefits
Renewable energy’s economic benefits continue long after a project’s completion. We have seen how a single 100-MW solar site can spark further transition away from large coal-fired or natural gas power plants to renewables, driving additional development and fostering a regional economic ecosystem.
For example, we’ve seen nearly a decade of nonstop construction around Los Angeles County, stimulated by projects 20, 30 or even 50 miles apart. Many of the people who started on one solar project years ago have been continuously employed. I recently met a woman who had entered the IBEW apprentice program after being laid off by her previous employer. At the time, she just needed a steady job and wasn’t thinking of a long-term career. Today, nearly seven years later, she has risen through the ranks to become a full-fledged union electrician and has turned that short-term job into a great career. There are many success stories like this in areas that transition to a renewable energy economy and we will see this repeated across the country in years to come. Good-paying jobs draw people to move into these areas so businesses continue to grow, increasing prosperity across the board.
For more about how sPower is impacting local communities, check out this video.
Meanwhile, communities continue to benefit from solar’s contributions to local property and sales taxes. We are often the highest local taxpayer in the areas where we operate, and yet we’re not drawing on many services such as police, fire departments or schools. Solar makes a safe, quiet neighbor, adding revenue to the economy without asking for significant local services in return. With long-term power contracts, areas can count on renewables to contribute to local economies for years to come.
Renewable’s unique solution
sPower has seen how renewable energy projects, including solar, wind and battery storage, can guarantee communities safety and security that traditional energy sources cannot. Renewable energy keeps air and water clean for residents while reducing greenhouse gases and, therefore, minimizing the effects of climate change.
Shifting energy generation to distributed renewable sources also provides more resiliency and economic stability. Fossil fuel prices fluctuate because they’re part of a global commodity market, but renewables offer power at the same price it is today for the duration of a contract — sometimes as long as 20 years or more. Renewables can insulate communities from that fluctuation and slow down the ever-increasing cost of power; that kind of certainty is a huge benefit to customers.
Finally, renewable energy development is highly adaptable. When we look at solar for example, these power plants are not forever structures, they can be installed and operated as temporary fields. If it doesn’t make sense to continue operating a solar plant at the end of its life, there is the option to remove it and return that land to agricultural, commercial, industrial or other use. Unlike fossil fuels, solar does not produce toxins or detrimental harm to the land. As communities try to plan for a multigenerational future, they can be confident that they’re doing the best thing for today, while leaving flexibility for tomorrow’s opportunities.
Keeping on through COVID-19
Although we are seeing other areas of construction being forced to slow or shut down, large-scale renewable energy development is less vulnerable to the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. While a natural gas plant may require more people working onsite, we can operate sites safely in a remote-control room. Also, maintenance demands are lower, requiring smaller local teams that can safely perform system maintenance while complying with social-distancing and safety protocols.
Nevertheless, we’re taking additional precautions to enhance worker safety with virtual meetings and more fleet vehicles so crews can maintain social distance by driving separately. In some areas we’re one of the few large employers still allowed to operate, creating a rare opportunity for those working in the renewable energy sector and in construction trades to continue to work safely under local restrictions.
In light of the devastating economic impacts caused by the pandemic, the time is ripe for communities to rebuild with renewables to ensure energy security and other economic benefits needed more now than ever. Renewable energy is the perfect opportunity to modernize local infrastructure while getting people back to work. Despite uncertainty elsewhere, large-scale renewable energy is still at an all-time high and companies like us will continue to be here to help communities invest in their future.