Green Jobs on the Rise: Will the Growth Continue?

Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, announced last week that it plans to open a $5 billion factory in Nevada. The giant facility—they’re calling it a “gigafactory”--will employ 6,500 people to manufacture batteries for Tesla’s much-anticipated low-cost Model 3 sedan.

Tesla’s move comes on top of a spate of green job announcements this year, demonstrating that clean energy is surviving despite systematic attacks from the fossil fuel industry and its backers in Congress. The broadsides keep coming, however, and the clock is ticking on key policies—namely, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and a suite of clean energy tax incentives--that will shape the fate of clean energy in this country.    

According to E2, a business group affiliated with NRDC, clean energy and clean transportation job announcements in the 2nd quarter of 2014 doubled the first quarter tally, with more than 12,500 new jobs announced in 29 states from April to June, and more than 18,000 already this year.

Fortune, which cited the E2 report, said, “The growth spurt in green energy projects is partly a reaction to the [EPA’s] Clean Power Plan.” The new federal carbon pollution standards, proposed in June, are expected to create hundreds of thousands of jobs in a variety of fields as states broaden their efforts to cut pollution. Wind technicians, solar installers, factory workers, roofers, HVAC technicians and thousands of others will all be needed to expand clean energy and make homes and buildings more efficient.

Many of the jobs created stemmed from remnants of projects which had qualified for a wind energy tax incentive, which expired at the end of 2013. Clean energy tax incentives, unlike many permanent oil and gas subsidies, have to be actively renewed by Congress—in some cases, every year. The last time these credits expired, thousands of jobs were lost and many clean energy projects sacrificed

Solar job growth, according to E2’s analysis, has been spurred in part by a rising number of homeowners choosing to install solar panels on their roofs. Some states make solar installations even more attractive by allowing consumers to sell extra energy back to the grid. At my home in New York, my solar panels help make my meter run backward. Residents of Arizona, California, and Massachusetts can do the same, making solar a smart business decision for many consumers in these states.

In New York, solar will get another big boost thanks to K-Solar, a program that offers free solar assessments to all public schools in the state. If a school decides solar is a good fit, it will get help with the process and discounts on system costs through a collective purchasing plan. And students will get a chance to see clean energy at work first-hand. Some schools even find they can expand or reinstate programs that were cut for budgetary reasons, thanks to the energy savings from solar.

While state incentives like these can help accelerate the shift to clean energy, entrepreneurs play an important role too. In St. Louis, Missouri, an orthopedic surgeon launched his own solar company, StraightUp Solar, after discovering there were no licensed solar installers in the state. The company’s business has grown by word-of-mouth, and StraightUp Solar now counts a retired Air Force commander and an erstwhile coal miner among its team.

In short, clean energy is putting America to work: yet threats to that success continue to mount.

Big Oil’s Congressional allies continue to block renewal of expired clean energy policies, taking away incentives for wind, solar power, and energy efficiency—while allowing the oil industry to continue enjoying a century of subsidies.

Taxpayers fork over roughly $8 billion each year to subsidize dirty fossil fuels—and those are just the costs we can see in the budget. A report from the National Academy of Science estimates that the additional, hidden costs of burning fossil fuels totals $120 billion each year. That figure is considered conservative, as it’s based solely on death and illness due to air pollution and damage to agriculture and forestry; it does NOT include billions of dollars in climate damages, national security costs, or other ecosystem damage.

Continuing to subsidize dirty fossil fuels while pulling the rug out from under clean, renewable energy simply makes no sense. Clean energy can drive job growth, revitalize communities, and help stabilize the climate, provided we keep moving forward with a framework that supports its success—smart policies that allow this industry to continue to grow and create jobs, that help consumers save money, and cut the harmful pollution that threatens our health and economy.

Dirty energy is yesterday’s news. Don’t let polluters turn back the clock. Tell Congress to restore clean energy incentives.