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A Green New Deal for Baltimore | COMMENTARY

A Green New Deal for Baltimore could help boost the economy and improve air quality.
A Green New Deal for Baltimore could help boost the economy and improve air quality.

For too long, Baltimore has suffered from chronic levels of mismanagement, unemployment, economic stagnation, poverty and lawlessness. But the recent drive to transition the city toward a clean energy economy presents a historic opportunity to rebuild the city’s infrastructure in ways that could surpass Baltimore’s impressive economic achievements in previous decades.

Earlier this year, Baltimore lawmakers mandated that 50% of the city’s energy production must become renewable by 2030. Governor Hogan announced a state plan for 100% clean energy by 2040.

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The results could be revolutionary. Renewable energy is among the world economy’s largest growth sectors, set to expand by 50% in the next five years.

One of the renewable energy industry’s biggest drivers has been foreign direct investment. Some of the world’s largest capital pools, including institutional investors managing more than $17 trillion in assets, now see tackling climate change as an investment priority, and the majority of the world’s Fortune 100 companies have already committed to increasing renewable energy use in their operations.

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This means Baltimore’s clean energy drive could transform Baltimore and the surrounding counties into a magnet for foreign investment, with seismic implications for residents. It also presents the opportunity to develop an entirely new paradigm of politics and economics designed to generate new jobs and dividends for grassroots communities.

That’s because instead of citizens’ taxes being used to feed the massive concentration of wealth and power, the clean energy transition heralds the opposite: giving power back to the people — literally.

Most energy generation is centralized, costly and generates considerable waste. Renewable energy offers the opposite: decentralized and horizontally distributed energy generation, enabling energy consumers and producers to be one and the same. This decentralized structure also means the profits and benefits are distributed horizontally too — across a larger pool of local residents.

This is an opportunity to return to, if not surpass, Baltimore’s “boom town” phase in the roaring ’20s. That’s why it’s critical that local residents recognize Baltimore’s “Green New Deal” as not just being about energy, but about regenerating a new public infrastructure where households, communities, hospitals, schools, small businesses and beyond are owners and producers of energy.

This post-carbon industrial transition promises to revitalize the local economy with influxes of foreign capital from Europe and beyond in partnership with local and national investors. As the new infrastructure is rolled out across all sectors, we will need new training and education to serve the demand for the hundreds and thousands of new jobs and skills that will open up. And Baltimore’s young will see the emergence of not just new jobs, but entirely new landscapes for technology innovation and entrepreneurship. A real and sensible plan to curb crime and violence through the creation of environmentally responsible opportunities.

But to make this vision a reality, the plan has to be right. According to Washington D.C.’s Center for Climate Strategies, the weaknesses of the Hogan plan outweighs its laudable strengths — meaning it is likely that it will not meet the 2030 goal, let alone wider 2050 climate stabilization targets.

A truly successful renewable energy transition must create sound market incentives to bring in sought-after global investment from the E.U. and other regions of the globe.

Baltimore needs feed-in tariffs, tax incentives, carbon pricing and emissions trading schemes. We also need joined-up thinking to integrate cutting edge technological innovations in digitalization, big data, artificial intelligence and smart grids, combined through the emerging 'Internet of things’ to help speed the transition.

Yet this cannot be achieved without establishing a proper legislative and regulatory environment conducive to the rapid growth of the renewable energy industry. We also need to make sure investments work for people in some of our most deprived communities.

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We are not quite there yet. But with the right approach to policy and regulation, Baltimore can aspire to being more than a clean energy leader in the United States. It could be the global hub of a clean industrial revolution underpinning the social transformations that local citizens desperately need, showing the world how the clean energy transition can benefit local communities everywhere.

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Saafir Rabb ( saafirrabb4@gmail.com) is a business strategist who served as an advisor to President Barack Obama’s transition team on Public Diplomacy. Vicente Lopez Ibor Mayor (vicentelopezibormayor529@gmail.com) is a globally renowned clean energy expert and the co-founder of Lightsource BP, Europe’s largest solar energy company, and founder of solar storage company, Ampere. He is also the former commissioner of the Government of Spain’s National Energy Commission.

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