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A Future of Energy Freedom
By Congressman Jerry McNerney Ph.D.,
Co-author of Clean Energy Nation: Freeing America from the Tyranny of Fossil Fuels

I make it a point to meet with as many people as possible to learn from the experiences of others and stay connected. It's important to represent my constituents effectively. In the last year, the tone of the conversations has changed. People are afraid for their future. They fear losing their jobs and homes, everything they've worked so hard to accomplish. There are simply not enough family wage jobs to go around. The American dream that has inspired generations to work hard and pursue innovative ideas seems to be slipping away.

We must create a new generation of jobs to give parents the confidence that their children will do better than they have, and we must assure our country's national and economic security. To make great strides on this path, look no further than the clean energy and energy efficiency industries, the next great frontier for Americans to explore.

As a clean energy engineer and small businessman with over two decades of experience in wind energy, I know the rewards and challenges of the clean energy industry firsthand. During my time as an engineer, I often climbed 200 foot windmills to conduct tests and make repairs. From the top of the windmills, I looked out over the landscape and saw what our innovative spirit can achieve -- capturing energy from the wind for our homes and businesses. Energy produced right here in the USA.

I worked for a quarter century developing wind energy technology only to see that same technology go overseas and create jobs in other countries. Much to my disgust, technology that was born of American innovation was outsourced to Germany, which had more favorable utility and energy policies. Jobs were created in Germany that should have been created in America. Today, Germany builds and exports wind turbines back to the United States.

Pursuing a more energy independent future for America will not only lay the foundation for the next generation of good paying manufacturing jobs but will also make us safer and more secure. We are heavily dependent on imported oil from the Middle East. Oil produced overseas fuels our cars, the trucks that ship goods around the country, and perhaps most critically, our military airplanes, tanks, ships and defense equipment. It's dangerous to be so heavily dependent on oil from unstable regions.

We're also confronted with the devastating threat of global warming, which is impacting people's lives across the globe with unprecedented heat waves, freakish storms, increasing acidity of the oceans, droughts, animal migrations, and melting arctic ice. Already, island communities in the Marshall Islands and the Maldives are facing the impending threat of rising ocean levels. These trends will only grow as the effects of global warming continue to accelerate and manifest themselves in our weather.

Fortunately, we have within our grasp the means to address the challenges of a struggling economy, our risky dependence on foreign oil, and the threat of climate change. America has the know-how and innovative spirit to be the world's manufacturer and exporter of clean energy technology. But this opportunity is rapidly vanishing as other countries, especially China, experience a surge in their clean energy development. We must act quickly or -- just like when the wind energy I worked on in the 1980s went overseas to Germany -- we'll miss the boat and soon be forced to buy all of our clean energy technology from other countries.

Our nation needs a directed energy policy that gives businesses the security and predictability to invest in developing and manufacturing here in America. Enacting smart policies like a renewable energy standard and providing the right financial incentives will help us unleash the American innovative spirit.

I've seen what we can do when we work on these issues. In the 1980s, I helped develop a new type of wind turbine. After months of hard work, our team invited a group of investors out to turn on the machine for the first time and witness the windmill's maiden voyage. We flipped the switch and, to our shock, the windmill blades flew apart while everyone ran for cover.

But that moment proved to be an important turning point for the technology. We improved the design -- making it better and stronger over time -- and now those windmills are an important source of energy production. We'll likely encounter similar bumps on the road as we work towards becoming more energy independent. But throughout this process, I'm confident that the American spirit of hard work and innovation will see us through.

We have a history of taking on great challenges. Indeed, from our first days as a colony that rose up against British monarchy, Americans have proven that we are capable of hard work and possess ideas that will change the world. Americans have always been eager to explore the last frontier -- whether it is new land in the West or the possibility of creating energy from algae. Let's start that journey toward energy freedom now.

© 2011 Congressman Jerry McNerney, Ph.D., co-author of Clean Energy Nation: Freeing America from the Tyranny of Fossil Fuels

Author Bio
Congressman Jerry McNerney, Ph.D., co-author of Clean Energy Nation: Freeing America from the Tyranny of Fossil Fuels, was elected to California's 11th congressional district in November 2006. Reelected in 2008 and 2010, he is a member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology; the Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment; and the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight. Prior to his time in Congress, he served as an energy consultant for Pacific Gas and Electric, FlowWind, and the Electric Power Research Institute. He lives in Pleasanton, California.

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