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Foundation Voices: The Midwest will Keep Leading on Clean Energy

Rooftop solar panels at Art Institute of Chicago. Photo courtesy Spire Solar Chicago/NREL

As the benefits of clean energy come into focus in states across the nation, philanthropic leaders are playing a more important role than ever in accelerating America’s transition to a future that produces more jobs and less carbon.

Nowhere is this evolving role more visible than in America’s Heartland, where locally-based foundations are helping to bring steady progress to the Midwest—and providing examples for the rest of the country. Their recent op-eds in Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland illustrate how the Joyce Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, George Gund Foundation, and Charles Stewart Mott Foundation are leading climate and clean energy initiatives in the region. The common thread in all of the op-eds is how, even as Washington looks to promote fossil fuels, bipartisan cooperation in Midwestern states with Republican governors has produced policies that will attract clean energy investments, promote economic development, create jobs, save consumers money, and protect our air and water. Joyce Foundation President Ellen Alberding and MacArthur Foundation President Julia Stasch co-authored the first piece, “Midwestern Common Sense Will Drive Clean Energy Shift, Despite D.C.,” which was published in Crain’s Chicago Business on February 9. They highlight bipartisan leadership in Illinois:

“Here in Illinois, despite an ongoing and crippling budget stalemate, state leaders ended 2016 by finding common ground on greater choice, growth and reliability of energy, an important issue that affects family budgets as well as the future of our planet.

“The Future Energy Jobs Act will create $15 billion in private investment in clean energy, a proven job creator. Job growth in clean energy outpaced the economy overall last year, growing 9 percent. The new law will stabilize consumers’ utility bills, even as it keeps two nuclear plants running for another decade. This is a watershed moment that should be recognized and celebrated: a big step forward to a reliable, diversified 21st century energy mix that puts consumers first by modernizing outdated energy regulations that have long hampered economic growth.”

The second piece, “Michigan leaders’ smart compromises on clean energy key to industrial future,” was co-authored by Ellen Alberding and Ridgway White, President of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, and ran on February 12 in Crain’s Detroit Business. The piece calls out the importance of Michigan’s forward-thinking clean energy policy.

“Clean energy currently employs nearly 90,000 people in the state. It’s estimated the current clean energy requirement has spurred $3 billion in investments and has the potential to attract another $4.3 billion by 2021. The energy efficiency programs are estimated to save customers over $1 billion a year. Earlier proposals to freeze the clean energy requirement would have caused the state to lose out on future investments.

“Perhaps more important, failing to ratchet up the state’s commitment to clean energy would have sent a signal that Michigan is not serious about clean energy in general — or the innovation and opportunity that go with it.

“The clean-energy transformation is today’s industrial revolution. Wind turbines, solar power arrays, electric cars — these are industrial products that come with industrial-scale wages and profits. To ignore this would be to ignore one of the greatest opportunities for wealth creation in the modern economy.”

The third op-ed, by Ellen Alberding, Julia Stasch, and George Gund Foundation Executive Director David Abbott, titled “Personal View: Clean energy revolution offers jobs, opportunity,” was published on February 20 in Crain’s Cleveland Business. The piece focused on the business and economic benefits for states that lead the way on clean energy:

“States that seize the energy transition will have a competitive edge for job creation and economic development. Ohio’s history as a seat of American industrial innovation is long — companies like Goodyear, Dow Chemical and Owens-Corning all started in the Buckeye State, and [Governor Kasich] clearly recognizes the opportunities of the clean energy revolution. The state legislature would do well to join Kasich’s support for clean energy lest they risk putting the state at a competitive disadvantage.

“In Ohio and in other states across the U.S., policymakers and investors can seize the many opportunities clean energy offers to bolster regional economies, provide stable jobs and social services, and prioritize public health and safety into the future. Regardless of decisions made in Washington, a state-led clean energy revolution reminds us what prudent public policy can — and should — look like.”

Each of the four foundations develops strategies and manages its own grantmaking portfolio on climate and clean energy issues. But sharing their collective vision of a clean energy future—and highlighting progress toward achieving their goals—underscores the important role philanthropy can play in service of the public interest.

Ryan Werder, Program Director, Midwest Campaigns