On Sept. 22, our two organizations participated in an event with significant implications for families and businesses throughout the region. The Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, which recognizes that clean energy delivers real economic benefits to the businesses and communities of Southwest Virginia, hosted Governor McAuliffe and business leaders, including Trane, at a Clean Energy Business Roundtable. The discussion highlighted how clean energy businesses can bring economic development and job growth to communities in Southwest Virginia. Governor McAuliffe’s presence demonstrated his strong commitment to building a robust clean energy sector as part of the New Virginia Economy.

At the roundtable, the chamber, Trane and other attendees talked about how growth in renewable energy and energy efficiency services is a win-win for the region and the state, bringing economic development and a bright future for workers today and for future generations. Renewable energy and energy efficiency companies, including both producers and consumers on a residential and industrial scale, had the opportunity to show the governor and other elected leaders the considerable economic impact we are having on the region.

We discussed ways to grow the clean energy sector, by expanding existing clean energy programs and establishing new policies to create more opportunities for energy efficiency and renewable energy. The goal we all share is to attract more businesses to every region of the commonwealth and make us a national leader in clean energy.

Advanced energy as a whole, which includes renewable energy and energy efficiency as its major components, is a $200 billion market in the United States, an industry with 2.7 million U.S. workers, according to Advanced Energy Economy, a national business organization. Per the preliminary results of a September 2016 industry census released by the Virginia Energy Efficiency Council, annual revenue for clean energy businesses in Virginia increased from $500,000 in 2013 to $2.1 billion in 2016.

With leadership at the state level, Virginia can implement policies that encourage the continued growth of this market. One example is expansion of the VirginiaSAVES program, a unique public/private partnership to provide subsidized financing for energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative fuel loans for both private and local government properties and entities within the commonwealth. The particular beneficiaries of such an expansion would be schools and institutions of higher education, which have already expressed significant interest in this program. Another example is to accelerate solar deployment in the commonwealth. To achieve this goal, the General Assembly should provide consumers with more options for procuring renewable energy. In particular, Virginia currently lacks the explicit legal framework to allow companies to enter into renewable energy contracts with non-utility energy service providers through third-party financing or Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs). Updates to the VirginiaSAVES program and third-party PPAs would have a transformative impact on energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment in the commonwealth.

Trane is one example of clean energy success in Virginia. A global leader in efficient HVAC and building management systems, Trane is already providing energy efficiency jobs here in Roanoke. The company has worked with K-12 schools, colleges and universities and local governments to upgrade their buildings and help them become more energy efficient. Energy savings from greater efficiency translate into more money for things that matter — workforce development, education and strengthening our community.

Clean energy leadership can help bring businesses to Virginia as well. Nationally, many Fortune 500 companies are looking to expand their businesses into states that have favorable policies towards clean energy, such as allowing them to procure their own energy from renewable sources. Here in Virginia, companies like Amazon and Microsoft have shown their commitment to renewable energy by procuring energy from solar installations. To continue to attract companies like these that care about clean energy, we need to ensure that policies are in place that support energy efficiency and renewable energy for businesses and residents.

Local companies, like Better Building Works, help companies save energy and money by implementing better design. The roundtable showed the commitment of these and other businesses in the clean energy sector to ensuring a bright future for Southwest Virginia. This diverse set of companies aims to drive long-term job growth in the region.

The clean energy industry delivers real economic benefits to our community — and it’s here to stay. We need to do what we can to maximize its potential. It is an investment we must make to promote economic development, to grow our region, and to ensure that our residents continue to prosper.

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