Statistics are one way to gauge our clean energy progress, and lately they've been telling a pretty exciting story. Wind energy has now reached 50 gigawatts of generating capacity. And solar has grown to the point where it supports 100,000 jobs.
But stats give you only part of the picture. Equally inspiring is the human side of the clean energy economy.
"My aunt is an operations manager at a wind farm here," says Jen Hensley, the Sierra Club’s Illinois Chapter Program Director. "It's probably the best job she's ever had. She's been able to work six days a week for 18 months at a time. That type of longevity for a construction-related job is unheard of."
For people like Jen's aunt, clean energy jobs mean pension hours, health insurance, and a way to pay the bills. They're also helping to get local economic engines humming again.
In Illinois, which added more than 700 gigawatts of wind last year, wind farms have generated tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue for local governments and school districts, according to a recent Illinois State University study.
These wind projects will provide billions of dollars through their lifetime in tax revenue and millions more to farmers who lease their land to wind manufacturers and developers.
Wind has created nearly 20,000 Illinois jobs since 2007 -- and may provide thousands more in the coming years. Community colleges and trade unions are now offering solar and wind programs to help fill job openings.
"I don't know of another industry sector where you see that type of job gains," says Jen.
What's happening in Illinois and other wind-rich Midwestern states is what the clean-energy revolution looks like. Amazingly, though, there are still naysayers in Congress who would rather subsidize old-fashioned dirty energy than extend the Production Tax Credit for wind energy and its workers. If Congress lets the wind Production Tax Credit expire, thousands of jobs like the one Jen's aunt has will be jeopardized.
We can stop that from happening, though. "It's just a matter of us stepping up and saying we want to keep these jobs going for communities," says Jen.