Maryland has repeatedly shown leadership on climate change and the clean-energy solutions that will both tackle the problem and provide economic growth. In order to continue this leadership, Maryland faces an important choice: whether to take another step forward on clean energy and reap the economic and job-creation benefits, or to settle for less. Gov. Martin O'Malley made the call late last month for the state to make the step forward, and we applaud his leadership.
Strengthening the renewable portfolio standard won't just cut pollution. It would also give Maryland's businesses more flexibility in controlling and reducing their energy costs, attract out-of-state business and investment, and cement the gains that Maryland's clean energy companies — and their employees and investors — have made so far.
The governor's call to strengthen policies such as the state's renewable portfolio standard is what the business community and investors like me have been asking for from elected leaders. My firm, Calvert Investments, was joined by nearly 300 other investors, together managing in excess of $20 trillion, calling for governments around the world to take action on climate change. To give you a sense of just how much money that is, U.S. gross domestic product last year was less than $16 trillion; these are the largest investors in the world committed to action. Just within the past few months, over 600 companies have signed the Climate Declaration. These companies included giants like General Motors, Unilever, Nestle and Intel. Their message is simple: Tackling climate change is one of America's greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.
Here in Maryland, we already know of the economic opportunities associated with taking on the greatest challenge of our times. One example is the renewable energy sector in the state. Many companies make up the state's renewable energy industry, producing components, installing wind turbines and solar panels, and providing high-quality jobs. These businesses include manufacturers such as Glen Burnie-based Fibox, construction companies such as Columbia-based GroSolar, and the numerous installers and service companies that round out the 1,900 solar jobs and hundreds of wind jobs employing Maryland residents.
Smart renewable-energy policy does not benefit only the solar and wind companies in the state. Last year, Calvert and our partners released a report, "Power Forward," finding that most Fortune 100 companies (and two-thirds of the Global 100) have set a renewable-energy goal, a greenhouse gas reduction goal or both. Not surprisingly, Maryland was ranked eighth in the nation for solar installations last year, in part because of the corporations in the state adopting renewable energy as part of reaching their goals. Which companies are adopting renewable energy may surprise you. General Motors has over a megawatt of solar capacity on its roof at its White Marsh facility, and Staples has nearly twice that on its stores in Maryland. Kohl's has solar at a number of its stores and distribution centers around the state.
More importantly, our research showed that companies are choosing to locate their renewable-energy projects and invest in states, like Maryland, where strong policies such as renewable portfolio standards allow them to meet their goals. Indeed, while some argue that clean energy will bring higher costs that drive business away from states, we see companies choosing to locate or invest in states with strong policies. Facebook made news this year when it chose to locate its new data center in Iowa rather than Nebraska, in part because of the ease of getting renewable energy in Iowa. And Sun Edison, which had its start in Maryland, chose to move its headquarters to California in part due to California's commitment to clean energy.
And, of course, we are seeing the results in the penetration of renewable energy technologies in states. Why does New Jersey have many times more solar panels on roofs of homes and businesses than Georgia does? Certainly not because New Jersey is a sunnier place. Rather, it is all about policy choices. As clean energy costs fall and the business community's commitment grows, states that are behind the curve will become less competitive.
Maryland has made a good start but has still only begun to scratch the surface of its clean energy potential. It will need further action to fully reap the benefits of one of the best economic opportunities of our times.
Bennett Freeman is senior vice president for sustainability research and policy at Bethesda-based Calvert Investment Management Inc.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun