Creating New Opportunities
in Clean Energy
America’s Hispanic community is a driving force in today’s social, business and political environments. What we do with our growing influence in the political realm and with our consumer spending will set trends for years, if not decades, to come. So, we must be a force for positive developments that further bring our community along and expand the horizon of opportunities for the next generation.
I grew up in a rural Colorado town on a ranch with my family. My childhood home was located a few miles from the nearest power line – placing my family in the category of households not connected to the electric power grid. It wasn’t until after I graduated from law school that we were able to access what was then a luxury item and is today provided universally throughout the United States. Once we were connected to the electric grid it meant an easier life with more opportunities for my family. Having had this experience growing up is one of the reasons I’m still passionate about energy and recognize its continued importance to powering our lives and economy.
Across the United States there is an ongoing transition to cleaner fuels that has me as excited today as I was when my family’s home was being connected to the electric grid. The combination of cleaner resources and a modern electric grid will give all Americans new opportunities in regard to how they use electricity to power their lives. This won’t become a reality though if we’re not engaged in the discussions that will shape our future.
First, we mustn’t forget that many Americans struggle to pay their energy bills. In fact, energy costs for the 29% of households earning less than $30,000 before taxes represent 23% of their after-tax family incomes, before accounting for any energy assistance programs. And, in 2015, the economic income gap between white and all minority working families was 25 percentage points. And while there is no doubt that renewable energy will and must play a key role in our energy future – a major challenge is transition in these opportunities without widening any existing economic or other disparities.
Second, it is not enough to just be energy consumers – we should be part of the new energy workforce. There are great opportunities at all skill-levels from engineering to accounting to cyber that will require the young minds our community has to offer. In my travels as Secretary of Interior and now in private practice I’ve seen first-hand the opportunities that the energy economy can bring to both rural and urban areas. On a recent trip to Albuquerque, NM, I saw a pilot project using solar panels and batteries connected to the electric grid that could serve as the basis for larger projects in the future.
And while the technology was impressive, so were the people working on the project. Their enthusiasm and pride in doing something important for our nation’s future and to them personally was rewarding in itself.
The political campaign season is upon us and already full of important topics like income inequality and job growth. Interestingly, the energy economy and opportunities discussed here can address those issues. That will only happen if we’re a voice for positive developments to bring our community along and create new opportunities for the next generations.
Ken Salazar was Secretary of the Interior from 2009 to 2013 and a Democratic Senator from Colorado from 2005 to 2009.