The Heartland states are the lifeblood that runs through America. Millions of hard-working Americans living in the vast expanse between coasts are perhaps the greatest embodiment of our national character.
But recent decades have seen people in the middle of the country tighten their belts in response to globalization and the great flight of industry. Factories closed and main streets shuttered while middle America struggled to keep pace in a changing world.
Fortunately, the rise of clean energy has been a fortuitous boon for the Heartland workers who have seen well-paying jobs return over the last few years thanks to emerging energy industries such as wind and solar. But, in the last few months, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a wrench into that economic growth.
Thankfully, middle America’s conservative leaders are up to the challenge and are embracing the all-of-the-above attitude exemplified by the Clean Energy Forward campaign.
U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) is a trailblazer who has championed clean energy jobs, and his efforts have yielded results. In 2019, Ohio ranked 8th in the nation for clean energy jobs, touting over 114,000 such jobs in the state. Energy efficiency accounted for over 83,000 jobs, while renewable energy accounted for more than 10,000 jobs. And of course, Ohio has been remade over the past decade with the growth of cleaner-burning natural gas production in the Utica Shale formation.
Neighboring Indiana’s Heartland values are worn on the sleeve of U.S. Senator Mike Braun (R-IN), who is doing his part as the co-founder of the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus. The solar industry has invested nearly $600 million in the state, while the wind industry has contributed capital investments of $4.9 billion—and these investments have paid off for landowners and workers. Clean energy had been growing four times faster than the rest of Indiana’s economy; however, the region has been hit hard by the pandemic, and between March and April 2020, the state lost 14,760 clean energy jobs.
Governor Kim Reynolds (R-IA) has pointed out that Iowa truly has been the “red state with the energy blueprint.” However, even before the pandemic, Iowa experienced issues in clean energy. Last year, Madison County instituted a year-long moratorium on renewable projects, and Hardin County placed an indefinite ban on wind turbine permits. Like other Heartland states, Iowa needs federal assistance in getting energy workers back on the job; luckily, it has a great conservative advocate in Washington in U.S. Senator Joni Ernest (R-IA), who sits on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, continues to optimize its energy sector with affordable alternatives under the steadfast advocacy of U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). As the top nuclear energy producer in 2019, Illinois was responsible for 12 percent of the nation’s total nuclear energy generation.
U.S. Representative Don Bacon (R-NE) also is pushing his state forward to a clean energy future. Representative Bacon represents Nebraska’s 2nd District, which is looking forward to construction of a 400MW+ solar farm by 2024, funded by the Omaha Public Power District. But such ambitious projects are at risk following disruptions due to the pandemic.
Finally, Michigan stands at the Heartland’s northern edge. U.S. Representative Fred Upton leads Michigan’s 6th District, which continues to be a regional leader in energy efficiency. In 2019, the district employed nearly 6,000 energy efficiency workers and, most recently, DTE Energy opened Polaris Wind Park in April 2020, now the largest wind farm in Michigan. Representative Upton serves as the ranking member on the Energy Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and is a member of the Roosevelt Conservation Caucus and the Climate Solutions Caucus.
America’s Heartland also is the heart of the clean energy transition. Its residents are no strangers to hardship and know how to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. But the pandemic has created economic difficulty of a different sort. Industries across the board have been wrecked, and Heartland workers need to get back to work soon. An all-of-the-above energy approach is the ticket to get there faster.