Statewide "Green" Index Ranks Inland Empire Third In Solar, Last In Commute Times

Aug 25, 2017

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A new report by two independent research firms has ranked every region in California by environmental indicators, like electricity consumption and solar panel installation -- and the Inland Empire got some mixed results.  KVCR's Ben Purper has more.

The recently-released 2017 Green Innovation Index put out by the independent research groups Next 10 and Beacon Economics ranks every major region of California according to environmental indicators.

And for the Inland empire region, there’s some good news and some bad news.

First, the bad news: the Inland Empire ranked dead last in shortest commute times. On average, Inland Empire commuters drove an average of 30.5 minutes per day in 2015 – that’s just barely more than commute times in the Greater San Francisco and Los Angeles areas.

Adam Fowler, Research Manager at Beacon Economics, says that number is so high because many people in the Inland Empire can’t afford to live close to where they work – especially if they work in Los Angeles or Orange County.

“Supply and demand is going to continue to push folks to continue to try to live in that area and drive whether that’s longer times or not to where they work. It’s a catch-22 a little bit, you offer people a bit of an affordability advantage but it requires them to drive a little bit longer.”

Those long commutes also an environmental issue.

Noel Perry is the founder of Next 10, an environmental research group that created the report along with Beacon Economics. Perry says that reducing commute times is essential to California reducing its transportation emissions, which make up about a third of the state’s total emissions.

“Housing absolutely connects to reducing our emissions. And as Adam explained, we need to work towards getting people to be able to live closer to where they work.”

And now for the good news: the Inland Empire ranked third out of twenty-four regions in California for solar installation in 2016, beat out only by Los Angeles and San Diego Counties. The year before that, we were first.

The reason? Sunlight and space.

“Those two things come together nicely to allow folks that want to opt in to maybe placing solar panels on their house, there’s actually space, you know, it’s not a battle of density or of trying to find a surface to put these things on. You’re kind of well-positioned to take advantage of a few of the variables that goes into getting solar off the ground.”

All those solar panels will also bring jobs to the inland area, according to Perry.

“Employment-wise, there’s a construction part of it, that’s one time work where you actually make the facility, but then in addition to that there’s the people who operate it, so those are long-term, quality jobs.”

A previous report by Next 10 and the UC Berkeley Center for Labor and Research found that around 41,000 direct jobs were created in a seven year span in the Inland Empire thanks to renewable energy programs such as solar installation and cap-and-trade.

Fowler points to evidence like this to dispel what he calls the myth that strong environmental policies hurt the economy or limit its growth. Fowler actually sees the opposite occurring in California.

“That can’t be repeated enough, there simply isn’t any evidence that shifting away from fossil fuels is an economic doomsday. Capitalism is creative, and if anything the California data that we continue to see has shown that innovative policy prescriptions to reduce emissions are really a boon for the economy.”

You can check out how each region ranked in the index here.