Renewable Energy a Jobs Creation Powerhouse
September 12, 2016
The solar industry alone has created one out of every 80 jobs in the United States since the Great Recession. When including wind, LED lighting, and other clean energy categories, that number could be close to one in 33.
For the solar industry, a majority of these new employment opportunities are blue-collar construction and manufacturing jobs that pay an average of $21 per hour — far higher than the $16 per hour non-union manufacturing jobs that South Carolina was touting later in that episode.
In fact, the solar industry has hired more veterans than anyone else, retrained coal workers, and even provided a soft landing for oil and gas workers who have lost their jobs. The vast majority of solar and wind workers are trained in less than six months because their previous work experience and training is completely transferrable.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “wind technician” is the fastest-growing job category — expanding twice as much as the next-fastest growing job, occupational therapy assistant.
In 2015, the manufacturing arms of the solar and wind industries employed tens of thousands of people making pieces and parts in the United States. This is up by 20,000 people over 2014. In fact, this number is expected to continue to grow at that pace for the next five years.
Between 2002 and 2015, a major expansion of the renewable energy industry created 25,500 blue-collar job-years — some 53 million hours of construction work, according to the study by the Don Vial Center on the Green Economy at UC Berkeley.
The greatest job gains were “in counties such as Kern, San Bernardino, Riverside and Imperial, where unemployment rates are far above the state average and income is far below average,” the study concluded.
The effort is producing many middle-class jobs because almost all the large-scale renewable projects are built under project labor agreements, which provide union pay rates, health insurance and pension programs, said Betony Jones, associate chair of the center.
For years, Elohim Cofield hopped from job to job without landing a stable career that supported him and his family.
His luck changed two years ago when he joined an apprentice program that promises steady work at more than $40 an hour installing solar panels and other energy infrastructure.
“This has allowed my family to grow from an apartment to a home,” said Cofield, a Sacramento resident with six children.
In a new study, labor researchers from UC Berkeley say career shifts like Cofield’s have been made possible by strict renewable fuel policies California has developed since 2002.
The study estimates renewable energy construction jobs put $340 million into pensions for blue-collar workers and about $400 million in health insurance programs. About $47 million paid for apprenticeships that helped people such as Cofield change careers.
The state’s renewable energy mandate has been a “virtuous cycle creating stable careers with good wages and benefits,” said Betony Jones, one of the report’s authors.
The Advanced Energy Economy Institute, a Washington, D.C., clean power advocacy group, estimated in April that 500,000 Californians work in the renewable energy industry.
That larger number includes a variety of industries such as solar, wind and nuclear power. It also incorporates efforts to spur energy efficiency or develop electric vehicles.