A Labor Day to Celebrate Clean Energy Jobs

Clean energy is driving a manufacturing renaissance, across the heartland, and across the nation.

Workers install rooftop solar panel arrays on one of 27 buildings across New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) properties.

Credit: Courtesy of NYCHA

Clean energy is driving a manufacturing renaissance, across the heartland, and across the nation.

This blog was cowritten with Tim Driscoll, president of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers.

When President Joe Biden visits Milwaukee on Labor Day, expect him to lay out his vision for a heartland manufacturing renaissance, with clean energy at its core. The sweeping climate, health care, and tax legislation that Biden signed into law last month is, after all, an investment in the American workforce—and the American worker.

Clean energy is one reason for this year’s strong jobs growth—1.1 million new jobs in just the past three months, bringing overall employment levels to slightly above the pre-pandemic peak.

The clean energy transition, and the jobs it supports, is about to get an enormous boost. That’s because the Inflation Reduction Act contains the strongest U.S. climate action ever: $369 billion, over 10 years, to speed the shift from fossil fuels to cleaner, more sustainable ways to power our future and to invest in pollution-reducing upgrades in the steel, aluminum, cement, and other emissions-intensive industries.

We need that now more than ever.

The heat waves, droughts, storms, floods, wildfires, and other climate-related disasters bearing down on communities across this country, and around the world, make it urgent that we cut the dangerous carbon pollution that’s driving this widening scourge. That means breaking our dependence on fossil fuels.

Biden rightly sees this as the economic play of our lifetime, on track to draw some $30 trillion in worldwide investment in just the next 20 years. He wants U.S. workers to be winners in the global clean energy sweepstakes. That begins at home, with a strong domestic manufacturing and supply chain base.

Right now, more than 3.2 million U.S. workers are helping us make our homes and workplaces more efficient; get more clean power from the wind and sun; build the world’s best electric and hybrid vehicles; and create a modern, reliable power grid.

In Wisconsin alone, these are good jobs for the more than 71,000 electricians, metal fabricators, roofers, and others working on state projects like the SunPeak rooftop solar installation at American Family Insurance headquarters, and the engineers and technicians building advanced battery and backup power systems at companies like Kohler Power Reserve or Harley-Davidson’s new line of LiveWire electric motorcycles and Serial 1 electric bicycles.

The Inflation Reduction Act will expand and accelerate the clean energy transition—and the jobs it supports. It provides strong incentives to help power companies get more electricity from the wind and sun. It contains incentives for power plants and industrial facilities to use advanced pollution-reduction technologies. This can be vitally important for large-scale industrial operations like the production of cement, which is essential to modern, resilient construction. The climate law also includes tax credits for energy-efficient homes, including multifamily housing and commercial buildings.

Most of these tax credits come with strong labor standards, including prevailing wage, domestic content, and apprenticeship requirements. It includes rebates and other incentives to bring down the cost for homeowners to install rooftop solar panels, as well as heat pumps and other energy-efficient appliances. It contains tax credits to cut the cost of electric cars, new and used, for low-income and middle-income drivers. It will spur innovation with investments in clean energy research and development. And it directs $60 billion in clean energy and other investment toward overburdened communities nationwide.

As we strive to create resilient communities in the face of widening climate costs and risk, we’ll rely more and more on durable construction materials and the skills of workers who are able to build with them. The Inflation Reduction Act recognizes that, with strong provisions to help ensure fair wages, good benefits, and apprenticeship programs for the people who build the clean energy future and to help to buttress our communities against mounting climate hazards and harm.

Credit:

U.S. Clean Energy Employment by Sector in 2021

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And it includes incentives that support union work. We all benefit from organized labor, whether we’re a member of a union or not, because it is the struggle and sacrifice of union workers who have contributed so much, over the decades, to the improvements in workplace safety, conditions, and compensation for all of us. On Labor Day, and every day, we remember the debt we owe to those who stood up for the benefits we all enjoy today.

A job, Biden is fond of saying, is about more than just a paycheck. “It is about dignity, respect, and your place in the community,” he said last Labor Day. “When Americans go to work each day, they are not just making a living—they are pursuing a life with hope in the future.”

Clean energy is driving a manufacturing renaissance, across the heartland and across this nation. That’s how we’ll confront the climate crisis, strengthen the economy, and invest in the American worker.

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