The most optimistic point out that, because decentralization is inherent to renewable energy, an equitable distribution of wealth is built into the new energy paradigm.
"The sun shines, the wind blows, there's biomass everywhere," says Jeremy Rifkin, author of "The Hydrogen Economy." And making heavy machinery such as wind turbines far from where it's to be used simply won't be cost-effective. Neither will transmitting energy over long distances. That means jobs will be more evenly distributed as well.
The real impetus for this market is most likely to come from top-down regulation on a national scale, a measure President Bush has so far rejected, but which many see as inevitable. "Everyone sees carbon regulation down the line," says Kate Gordon, a senior associate with the Center on Wisconsin Strategy at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
But thanks to the spike in oil prices and incentives like the recently extended Production Tax Credit for producers of renewable energy, some renewables are already competitive. Electricity generated from wind power is now competitive with that produced by natural gas. Wind-generated electricity has enjoyed a 27 percent growth rate in 2006 and is projected to grow at the same pace in 2007, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
Already, it appears that the renewable energy sector has begun to deliver on its promise of new jobs. Spanish wind giant Gamesa Corp. is building a manufacturing plant in Edensburg, Pa., on the site of a closed steel mill. In all, Gamesa will bring 1,000 jobs to Pennsylvania, some 230 of them long-term manufacturing jobs.
Manufacturing giant Siemens, meanwhile, recently announced plans for a wind-turbine plant in Fort Madison, Iowa, that will employ some 250 people.