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Want green jobs? Watch California.

Instead of waffling on green energy, the US must offer consistent support.

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The last time the federal government tried to play a large role in stimulating the development of renewable-energy projects, it failed miserably. Instead, states such as California were the ones that ended up jump-starting today's wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass industries. As President-elect Barack Obama and Congress craft a federal stimulus program package designed to add 2.5 million jobs, many of them green, across the country, they should remember some important lessons from the past.

Federal investments in wind power after the energy crisis of 1973 failed to produce a single commercial wind turbine. It took the political leadership of people such as California Gov. Jerry Brown to put in place state incentives to grow the wind industry from the ground up, instead of from the top down.

Now that Mr. Obama has picked his new energy and environment cabinet appointments, there is hope among many that the US can move forward with a clean power agenda. Given the lack of leadership from the White House over the past eight years, it is refreshing for renewable- energy advocates to hear that Obama doesn't buy the argument that what's good for the environment is bad for the economy.

But along the way, Obama must not lose track of the fact that big is not always better. Innovation is an imprecise process, and all levels of government need to play critical roles.

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