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Guest column: Realizing the economic potential of clean energy

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For many South Carolinians, and truly all Americans, 2020 has been a tumultuous year. From quarantines to the economic downturn created by the COVID-19 pandemic to a long, drawn-out, and often contentious election season, many of our communities are still reeling. With the election now behind us, it is time for leaders at every level of government to turn our attention to a truly full recovery by fortifying and strengthening our economy.

One surefire way to do that is by supporting a rapidly growing industry with nearly unlimited potential to create jobs and spur economic development in small towns and cities throughout South Carolina and nationwide: clean energy. I have come to understand the importance of clean energy through both my role as mayor of Aiken as well as my involvement in and support of groups like Conservatives for a Clean Energy Future and Conservatives for Clean Energy S.C.

I have said it before, but it bears repeating – clean energy is not a partisan issue; it is an economic one. It is not about choosing sides – left versus right – but about coming together as Americans to create well-paying, 21st-century jobs, expand consumer choice and secure a stronger future for us all. As the science and technology behind clean energy advances, South Carolina is well positioned to become a real leader in this field. We must seize this opportunity.

If there is one thing Aiken and communities in the CSRA know well, it’s the powerful economic and employment opportunities that investments in energy as well as defense can bring to our communities. For 70 years, the ongoing nuclear development at the Savannah River Site has poured critical tax dollars into local communities and helped provide jobs for a highly skilled workforce. While not necessarily rooted in energy production, SRS demonstrates the potential of developing cleaner energy resources like nuclear has to bolster our state’s economy.

In Aiken, as in many South Carolina cities, support for clean energy and sustainability initiatives continues to grow as many see these efforts as good for the environment, and local commerce. Here in Aiken, for example, businesses like Green Energy Biofuel are leading the way in advancing sustainable solutions for other local businesses while creating jobs here and investing back into the community.

As mayor, I have worked to support initiatives that reflect the growing desire to advance clean energy policies among local residents and businesses alike – from Earth Day to Solarize Aiken Day, which highlights the importance of supporting renewable energy development, particularly in carbon-neutral energy from the sun itself. Protecting the environment is important to our communities, and clean energy development enables us to do so while helping us build a more robust, resilient economy at the local, state and national levels.

While local and state efforts are of course important to the development of our clean energy resources, South Carolinians clearly agree that clean energy is a winning issue for elected officials at all levels including federal. In the recent senate election, Sen. Lindsey Graham, set priorities around a vast array of issues – including climate-smart solutions.

Moving forward, local and state officials must work with federal leadership to grow our clean energy economy and workforce here in South Carolina and across the country.

I’m certain Sens. Graham and Tim Scott, and Rep. Joe Wilson will be strong advocates for common sense, pro-growth strategies that enable us to tap into the full potential clean energy like nuclear, solar and wind, have to offer. Not only will doing so protect our environment for future generations of South Carolinians, it will also help us create much-needed jobs and opportunities to support a thriving economy.

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