With the election campaign heading into the home stretch, recent developments in the renewable energy sector serve as reminders of the certainty of the significant role clean energy will play in our future, and all candidates for public office – be it for the White House, Congress, the statehouse or city hall – are urged to accept this inevitability.
And those still holding their seats on Capitol Hill have an opportunity over the next few months to demonstrate their grasp of the significance of renewables this fall when they take on a major energy bill that calls for infrastructure changes to better accommodate wind, solar and other clean power sources, as well as give biomass an equal footing in our nation’s energy strategy.
Those in Congress seeking re-election, as well as all others seeking voter support, understand that most elections focus critically on the state of the economy, which, in turn, means jobs. And the economic/jobs news from the renewable energy sector has been consistently good this campaign season.
Earlier this year The Solar Foundation (TSF), an independent nonprofit research and education organization, released state-by-state data from its annual National Solar Jobs Census series via the State Solar Jobs Census Map. The census shows that one out of every 80 jobs created since the financial crisis of 2008-09 came in the solar sector alone. If you account for new jobs also created in the wind, energy efficiency and other arenas, clean energy generated one out of 33 new jobs since the recession.
Driven by growth in wind and solar, renewable energy employment in the United States increased by 6 percent in 2015 to reach 769,000 jobs, according to data gathered by the International Renewable Energy Association.
Solar employment in the country continued its rapid expansion – growing by almost 22 percent to reach 209,000 in 2015, expanding about 12 times as fast as overall job creation in the U.S. economy, which had its second best year of job growth since 1999. It’s also important to note that solar installers are making an average of $21 per hour, up 5 percent in 2014 and twice the national average, according to The Solar Foundation. Given the congressional extension of the federal Investment Tax Credit through 2021, continued fast growth in the sector is expected.
The extension of the Production Tax Credit also should ensure continued growth of the wind energy industry over the next five years. The congressional move to push the PTC to 2020 came at the close of a year in which the wind sector registered a 21-percent gain in employment, to 88,00 jobs. American Wind Energy Association data shows component manufacturing employed 21,000 people; construction, project development and transportation accounted for 38,000 jobs; and operation and maintenance for 29,000 jobs.
A closer look at clean energy employment at the state level shows a similar trend of growth. For example, the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association (NCSEA) earlier this year issued its latest census, covering 2015, which showed the renewable energy sector has been a rapidly growing part of the state’s economy since the first version of the report in 2008. Now numbering approximately 1,000 firms, the sector provides more than 26,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs in the state (3,000 more than the number reported in 2014), and generates almost $7 billion in annual gross revenues, a $2-billion hike over 2014.
A quick look at the biofuel industry shows the federal Renewable Fuel Standard has driven the creation of nearly 360,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs nationwide, resulting in nearly $24 billion in wages in the ethanol sector. In addition, the economic activities of the ethanol industry have generated nearly $44 billion in incremental economic productivity and contributed nearly $4.8 billion in federal tax revenue and $3.9 billion in state and local government tax contributions.
Biodiesel production has created more than 62,000 jobs, $2.6 billion in wages and supported a total economic impact of $16.8 billion in 2013.
Policy makers, and those who are seeking to be policy makers, would also be well served to see who those jobs are going to. Nearly 10 percent of all who work in the solar industry – more than 13,000 people – are veterans. And programs like the one launched in Colorado this summer by Solar Energy Industries to train displaced coal and oil workers are sprouting up in areas of the nation where energy sourcing is undergoing transition.
Those seeking office should recognize that renewable energy is here to stay and will only continue to grow exponentially over the next several decades. The fact that a conservative bedrock like Iowa currently gets nearly a third of its power from renewable resources shows the expansion is taking place all across the nation. Voters understand that renewable energy is bringing with it cheaper, cleaner and more secure power, as well as a boost to the national and local economies with expanding job growth. It’s a good issue on which candidates for political office can take a stand.