TAEBC guest column: Transportation electrification can recharge Tennessee’s economy

(Originally published in the Knoxville News Sentinel

By Cortney Piper, Executive Director of TAEBC

Tennessee unemployment lingers close to 10% as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to chew through livelihoods across the state. Likewise, millions of Americans are unemployed. The state has an opportunity in this economic downturn, however, to add jobs and make the state a leader in the advanced energy economy for transportation.

The energy sector, specifically transportation electrification, is the solution that Tennesseans should pursue. It would have statewide impact, and with the potential backing of federal funding, has the potential to launch the state into a new phase of manufacturing and job creation.

Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council supports stimulus proposal

The Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council recently signed on to the Transportation Electrification Partnership’s $150 billion federal stimulus proposal. The coalition of 50 cleantech organizations from 15 states recently sent a letter to Congress, requesting multi-billion-dollar federal investment in transportation electrification. That investment would create 2.3 million high-quality, advanced energy jobs across the country. The proposal’s recommended actions include:

  • $25 billion investment in building and adopting electric and zero-emissions vehicles along with supply-chain development (producing domestic lithium for batteries, etc.);
  •  $85 billion for electric vehicle charging and related infrastructure;
  • $25 billion for zero-emissions public transit, active transit and safe streets;
  • $12.5 billion for workforce development, safety standards and job training; and
  •   $2.5 billion in innovation ecosystems for cleantech startups and related small businesses, prioritizing those created by underrepresented founders.

This electrification proposal isn’t just about putting electric vehicles on the street. It’s about creating manufacturing jobs, as $25 billion would boost the electric vehicle supply chain. Facilities such as Denso in Maryville have become regional leaders in employment because of their role in the automotive supply chain.

A boost for community and technical colleges

Of the $150 billion in the proposal, $12.5 billion is dedicated to workforce development and job training. Think of the expansion that could provide for community and technical colleges across the state as we build a workforce of smart people with the technical know-how to remain competitive for new potential employers. Another $2.5 billion would go toward fostering an advanced-energy entrepreneurial ecosystem. That’s money directly going to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Transportation electrification falls under the advanced energy sector – anything making energy cleaner, safer, more secure or more efficient. At our core, TAEBC champions advanced energy as a job creation and economic development strategy. In our 2018 Tennessee Advanced Energy Economic Impact Report, we found that advanced energy contributes $39.7 billion to state gross domestic product and employs nearly 360,000 Tennesseans.

It’s simple: The advanced energy sector creates high-quality jobs, fuels growth for existing businesses and attracts new corporate investment in the state. It’s already happening. Volkswagen is opening a new $800 million electric vehicle production site. Facebook has a new $800 million data center near Nashville that will be powered by two new solar energy projects. Advanced energy will continue to recharge our economy and accelerate growth during this challenging time.

Tennessee is uniquely positioned to capitalize on transportation electrification thanks to the hard work of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and previous governors Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam, who diligently put our current advanced energy infrastructure and assets in place. Just last year, Bob Rolfe, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner, reinforced our state’s goal of becoming the top electric vehicle producer in the country.

The state is ready to lead the country in transportation electrification. In fact, work in electrification is a key part of Tennessee’s history in America. In 1933, the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority brought jobs and helped Tennesseans pull through the worst of the Great Depression. Today, the transportation electrification efforts outlined in this proposal could and should be used as job creation and economic development opportunities to help us rise out of our current crisis.

Clearloop partners with first business, aims to help businesses reduce carbon footprints

Nashville-based Clearloop recently partnered with its first business, Boston-based Impact Snacks, a healthy snack company that “reclaims more carbon than it makes, produces no plastic and harnesses the power of collective action leaving nothing behind except for a better, cleaner world.”

Founded by former Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen, Laura Zapata, and Bob Corney in 2019, Clearloop aims to “accelerate the greening of the U.S. electricity grid in the next 10 years through the force of everyday actions.” The startup helps companies “measure, reclaim and track” their carbon footprint with new renewable energy facilities. 

“We’re trying to partner with different businesses in a way similar to crowdfunding to build these facilities that would produce enough energy to power 200 homes in the Jackson area,” said Zapata. Zapata and Corney worked on Bredesen’s staff when he was governor. 

With this new partnership, Clearloop will build its first megawatt-producing solar facility near Silicon Ranch Corporation’s 2-megawatt solar farm in Jackson, Tennessee. Bredesen serves as the Founding Chairman of the Board for Silicon Ranch Corporation, a valued Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council member. 

Clearloop’s mission is to help businesses of all sizes partner to build renewable energy facilities to generate clean energy and decrease or completely eliminate their carbon footprint. 

“I see it as a way of really reaching into a different world of companies that are not the big dogs, who have got some C-suite executive worrying about sustainability, like Walmart does or Procter & Gamble does,” Bredesen told The Associated Press

Zapata said the company intends to announce more partnerships later this year.