Low Carbon Leader: Midwest

Reading time: 40 minutes
18 July 2008

The Midwest region has some of the greatest potential sources of wind power in the country. On the shores of the Great Lakes, the Steel Winds wind power project is already blowing new life into long abandoned steel sites on the shores of Lake Erie in New York. Since 2006, Steel Winds has attracted $40 million in investment, generated enough electricity to power about 9,000 homes and avoided over 6,600 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

And this could be just a start. This kind of industrial re-development holds significant potential in the Midwest, where manufacturing innovations transformed the industrial revolution a century ago. With modern manufacturing requiring an increasingly smaller footprint than the region's heritage industries, the Midwest can develop the physical sites for small-scale energy generation and leverage the region's manufacturing and transportation infrastructure to produce and distribute low-carbon products.

Business and government in the region are already pursuing this spirit of reinvention, setting the tone for leadership on climate change. The Dow Chemical Company is investing more than $100 million in materials which incorporate solar generation directly into the design of new buildings - technology that could cut the cost of solar power to one-third of existing levels. Procter & Gamble has developed a cold-water laundry detergent that helps consumers reduce energy used to clean clothes by up to 95%. If all Americans used this simple solution, it would cut household energy use by up to 3% and avoid 34 million tons of GHG emissions per year. The Midwest is also the birthplace of the Chicago Climate Exchange, the world's first voluntary greenhouse gas cap-and-trade program.

Cities and states in the Midwest are also implementing some of the most advanced energy-saving and renewable energy projects in the nation - from Chicago's three million square feet of green roofs, to Minnesota's aggressive renewable portfolio standards and St. Paul's biomass combined heat and power facility. By pursuing new markets, supporting the power of collective action and setting leading public policies, the Midwest is on the move.

These leading companies, cities and states are showing that there are tremendous, emerging opportunities in the coming low-carbon economy. As demand for low-carbon products and services grows, the emergence of new industries and "green collar" jobs may be one of the biggest opportunities for innovation and job creation this century. We can take the lead, drive the innovation and own the technology the rest of the world needs - or we can let someone else do it.

There is no competitive advantage in inaction; the Midwest does not benefit by waiting for other states to do something first, nor does the US benefit by waiting for the rest of the world to act first. The Midwest led the US economic revolution of the 20th Century through the development of mass-production. The region has the opportunity to do the same thing again and lead the transformation to the low carbon economy.

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