Where the clean energy jobs are: 1.8 MILLION workers in top 50 US metro areas
According to a report from E2, 1.8 million American clean energy jobs are located in the top 50 metro areas. They represent 58% of America’s total 3.2 million clean energy jobs. Every one of the top 50 metro areas employs over 10,000 clean energy workers. Michael Timberlake, the Communications Director for E2, answered some questions for CleanTechnica about the clean energy industry.
NYC and LA have the most clean energy workers of American cities. Other than being huge populations centers, why is that?
Both cities benefit from their states being at the forefront of smart state energy policymaking for more than a decade now, and their dominance in clean energy jobs is no coincidence. More than just their populations, both states have some of the nation’s best energy efficiency and renewable energy policies. These policies are saving businesses and consumers money with every power bill, but they’re also encouraging clean energy companies to invest, expand and create jobs.
In addition, these cities’ local leaders have continued to tell the world they plan to push the bar higher even during a time of policy uncertainty – most notably being the first US cities to recommit to the Clean Power Plan after the Trump administration announced plans to weaken it.
Even before the US started to pull out of Paris, New York City implemented, and has for a number of years been enforcing, the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan (GGBP). It’s a suite of laws that aggressively reduce emissions from the city’s building stock via energy efficiency measures. Both cities are also now requiring all new buildings to operate at net zero carbon by 2030 and are part of the American Cities Climate Challenge.
Which cities are lagging the furthest behind? Is it mostly because of the lack of support from local policymakers?
The great thing about clean energy is that growth is coming from everywhere. Some states and metro areas may be lagging behind their neighboring counties and states, but new jobs are being created nearly every month. These are first, and most importantly, local jobs that aren’t limited by reserves or deposits. The sun shines everywhere, the wind blows everywhere and people can save money through energy efficiency everywhere too. Similarly, the sun and wind don’t know political boundaries. In fact, there are more clean energy jobs in Republican districts than there are in Democratic districts. And it’s not cities versus rural areas either. For example, most Midwest states have more clean energy jobs per capita in rural areas than in urban ones. And while urban cities did vastly outnumber rural areas in total clean energy jobs, it was the rural clean energy jobs that outpaced overall hiring in the Midwest in 2017.
Is there anything that can be done to turn them around?
Absolutely. What we know is that the cities and states with the best clean energy policies are the places with the most clean energy jobs. There’s a reason North Carolina is now the No. 2 solar state – it’s not because the sun shines any brighter in North Carolina than in South Carolina or Virginia – it’s because North Carolina has the only Renewable Portfolio Standard in the Southeast. Similarly, Massachusetts isn’t a huge state, but it is a leader in energy efficiency jobs. Why? Because it has some of the best energy efficiency policies in the country. Policies matter, and smart cities and states will adopt policies that can create clean energy jobs, drive economic growth – and help their environment too.While clean energy is already a major job creator, it’s potential is not close to being reached. The list of effective clean energy policies cities and localities can employ to attract investment and jobs is incredibly long.
I would suggest that for cities currently aiming to attract more clean jobs to adopt policies that can best send the message your city is committed to clean energy. This means passing policies that drive electric vehicle charging infrastructure expansion, help residents make energy efficiency improvements to their homes, set emissions requirements for new commercials buildings, integrate renewable energy into housing projects, and streamline local renewable energy developments.
City governments can also proactively seek out partnerships with companies which aim to procure clean energy for their operations, as well as lobby their state and federal elected leaders for more pro-growth policies. For cities that are starting with a clean slate, be sure to implement new policies equitably using preexisting resources to do so (see: EEFA).
In the cities and states with the most clean energy workers, how much is clean energy adding to their economies?
Clean energy jobs have become a huge part of the economy. There are more people who work in clean energy in American now than work in agriculture, or investment banking, or real estate. There are about as many people who work in clean energy as work as teachers. That’s huge, and it’s playing out in every city and state in the country.
Are there places in the country where there are more clean energy jobs than workers?
Hiring is a reported issue for numerous clean energy businesses. One of our E2 members runs a wind business in Colorado, for instance. He says he can never hire enough people fast enough. That makes sense, since wind turbine technician is the No. 2 fastest-growing job in America, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The only job projected to grow faster? Solar installer.
According to our Clean Jobs Midwest report, about three-quarters of Midwestern clean energy businesses said they had difficulty hiring qualified employees and a third said hiring was “very difficult.” Reasons reported were uncertainty around numerous federal policies, including the potential expiration of the 179D Commercial Building Energy Efficiency Tax Deduction, the EPA’s attempt to roll back fuel economy standards, and the anticipation of the impact from the Trump administration’s tariff on foreign solar equipment. But while these factors have helped create market uncertainty for clean energy businesses across the US, the clean energy economy’s growth has only been slowed.
Are workers migrating to these areas?
Our jobs reports are a “moment in time” look at the clean energy jobs in those states, counties, and legislative districts and we cannot say if people are migrating to other states for this work, but clearly, clean energy is helping reenergize and attract workers to certain parts of the country. In the Midwest, for instance, factory towns are growing again thanks to manufacturing companies that make everything from ball bearings and wiring harnesses for wind turbines and solar arrays to Energy Star appliances and parts for hybrid and electric vehicles. Operations like Tesla’s Gigafactory have reinvigorated the town of Sparks, Nevada, and the solar industry has pumped new life into places like Rochester, NY.
In a couple of weeks, E2 is hosting a clean energy summit with the US Steelworkers Union in Pittsburgh PA. Why? Because steelworkers are finding new jobs in the clean energy economy too – building wind turbine towers, racking systems for solar panel installations, and other clean energy products.
Will cities like NYC, LA and San Diego continue to dominate in clean energy jobs?
That’s up to other cities and the lawmakers and policies who run then. In the short term it is difficult to see how major cities in states such as California, New York, and Massachusetts will not continue to be home to the majority of clean energy jobs. Much of this has to do with clean energy’s leading job creator – energy efficiency— and how it is more integrated than ever into cities’ overall infrastructure development, building construction, and essential growth.
On the other hand, the vast majority of renewable energy generating capacity remains outside cities and urban areas – including 99% of all wind capacity. The good news is, again, clean energy isn’t limited by geographic or politics or anything else. Poll after poll after poll shows that Americans want more clean energy no matter where they live; it’s up to their local and state leaders to deliver it.
Is the South where there are the fewest clean energy jobs?
Not necessarily. As mentioned, North Carolina is one of the biggest states for utility-scale solar in the country (and is #9 overall in clean jobs). West Texas leads in wind energy (along with Iowa). And energy efficiency is big and will continue to grow in cities with lots of office space and homes, like Atlanta, Charlotte and elsewhere.
If anything, the South is a region that holds huge potential. Clean energy jobs could explode if only the Sunshine State of Florida would pass some decent renewable standards. Ditto for energy efficiency in places like Miami or New Orleans or Atlanta, where the air conditioners run all summer. Lawmakers in states and cities in the South should look around what’s happening in other parts of the country, and start passing policies that will create jobs, attract investments, reduce energy costs and also have the added benefit of making their air, water and environment cleaner.
Numbers-wise, this is a bit difficult to answer depending on how you divide the geographic regions, but regardless the South is absolutely not the region with the fewest clean jobs.
Assuming you do not include Texas and Oklahoma, the 11 southern states (AR, LA, AL, MS, FL, GA, NC, SC, TN, KY, WV) total nearly 700,000 clean energy jobs – more per state than the Midwest whose 12 states combine for more than 714,000. If separated from the Pacific Coast, the Rocky Mountains’ six states (MT, WY, UT, ID, CO, NV) combine for just over 150,000 while the Southwest’s four states (TX, AZ, NM, OK) reach nearly 315,000.
What could the South do to better support clean energy growth?
The same as all US states and cities:
- Pass and implement meaningful renewable energy standards at the city and state level.
- Pass and implement meaningful energy efficiency standards at the city and state level and increase states’ public utility commissions’ ability to set energy efficiency savings goals.
- Encourage renewable energy development through the adoption of policies like Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS’s), which establish a base level of RE power needed in a state’s energy mix. This will help create more demand for clean energy and the jobs that come with it.
- Increase state investments in energy storage and grid technologies.
- Adopt programs to benchmark energy usage and waste in buildings – and then create programs to reduce that waste through energy efficiency, creating jobs along the way.
- Encourage the adoption of greater energy storage and advanced grid technologies, and properly plan for transmission of distributed energy sources to their grid (renewable energy).
- Implement carbon pricing mechanisms or set mandatory, economy-wide limits on carbon pollution to ensure it declines over time.
- Build out electric vehicle charging infrastructure to encourage more EV use.
Clean energy jobs are doing much better than coal, so why doesn’t the current administration acknowledge this fact?
I have no insight into the motivations, but E2 has long fought for the idea that not only are clean energy jobs the future – but that they are already here. Our jobs reports, going back to 2012, have attempted to raise this reality with lawmakers, the public, and businesses, but unfortunately many still see the world’s 21st century energy needs in 20th century technologies.
But anybody who cares about clean energy and the jobs that come with it should be doing whatever they can to raise awareness of the size and importance of the clean energy industry to all of our lawmakers. A few months ago, we launched a campaign to do that just that. It’s called Clean Jobs Count. You can now go to www.cleanjobscount.org and find details on clean energy jobs for every state and every clean energy sector in America. You can also sign our Clean Jobs Count pledge that we send to lawmakers – and the administration – making sure they know that this is a huge and important part of our nation’s economy. Already more than 30,000 Americans have signed the Clean Jobs Count pledge.
More Americans already work in energy efficiency than in the nationwide fossil fuel industry. Do you think many Americans are aware of this fact?
Unfortunately not, and that is one of the key reasons E2 launched the Clean Jobs Count campaign and continues to support the annual US Energy & Employment Report produced by BW Research through former energy secretary Ernest Moniz’ Energy Futures Initiative and the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO). The report was previously produced by the Department of Energy in 2015, 2016, and 2017 but was discontinued by the Trump Administration early in 2017. Thankfully these groups, along with many other partners, have picked up the responsibility to continue the annual report.
How much will American clean energy jobs grow in the next 10-20 years?
Our jobs analysis does not include projected growth. However, the USEER survey of employers does show clean energy employers in the majority states are predicting increased growth overall in 2018 and that energy efficiency was the fastest growing part of the energy sector – account for half of the entire sector’s job growth in 2017.
The US Labor Department’s Biennial Employment Projections for 2016-2026 predicts that solar installers and wind turbine technicians will be the fastest growing jobs over the next decade. These are good indicators that growth is likely only to increase.
However, this won’t happen if Washington keeps trying to roll back commonsense clean energy policies while simultaneously trying to prop up coal and other fossil fuels as the future of energy in America. Right now, it’s being left up to states, cities and businesses to continue leading our country in the right direction on clean energy. Hopefully, Americans everywhere will continue to demand that they do so.