They grew up on farms. They served in the military. They went to MIT. They’re single moms. They’re minorities. They’re out West, back East, down South, in the heartland. They’re the hundreds of thousands of Americans who work in the clean energy industry, helping bring reliable, pollution-free energy and clean transportation to millions of Americans. And their ranks, according to the latest roundup of clean energy project announcements from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), continue to swell, as this rapidly developing industry drives job growth and revitalizes communities all over the country.
E2, a business group affiliated with NRDC, has been tracking clean energy and transportation project announcements since 2011. According to E2’s latest quarterly report, companies and communities nationwide announced 58 new clean energy and clean transportation projects in the second quarter of 2013, leading to the creation of as many as 38,600 jobs.
These are good jobs, jobs that provide not only a source of income but a source of pride for workers. “We can’t keep going the way we’re going with energy,” Caleb Lowe, a technician at Flat Ridge Wind Farm in Kansas, told E2. “I feel proud doing this,” says Lowe, who served in the Navy for 8 years. “It’s making the world a better place for my kids.”
Kansas now gets more than 20 percent of its energy from wind farms, and is gearing up to export wind power. A new transmission line, the Grain Belt Express Clean Line, through Kansas and Missouri, will bring 3,500 megawatts of wind power to other states. Planning, building, and managing the line is expected to create about 5,500 jobs, according to published news reports, pushing Kansas and Missouri into the top 10 of E2’s quarterly clean energy job list. Hawaii and Alaska entered the top 10 for the first time, announcing major energy efficiency initiatives for buildings. And Maryland broke into the top 5 with its extension of Baltimore’s light rail line, which is expected to create more than 4,000 construction jobs while easing the commute for tens of thousands of Baltimore-area residents.
E2 showcases how broad the growth of the clean energy industry is on its new website, Clean Energy Works for US! The site has a searchable database of clean energy job announcements across the country, and highlights stories of workers, like Lowe, and communities who are benefitting from the industry’s growth. Religious leaders in North Carolina talk about the benefits of installing solar panels on churches and synagogues; carpenters in the Chicago area enthusiastically receive training in home weatherization; and returning veterans vouch for the industry as a good fit for their skills as they transition to civilian life.
The clean economy, according to a 2011 Brookings Institution report, employs more people than the fossil fuel industry. And the growth we’re seeing today could be just the tip of the iceberg. We’re on track to get 20 percent of our energy from wind power by 2030. We get 6 percent of our energy from wind today, up from less than 1 percent in 2006. This growth has sparked a manufacturing renaissance, as ailing factories in the Rust Belt shifted to producing parts for wind turbines. Today, more than 70 percent of wind turbine components are made domestically, up from 25 percent in 2006. Efficiency is another engine of job growth. Federal efficiency standards for appliances—the ones that have helped make refrigerators, washers and dryers use 75 percent less energy than they did in 1972—have generated 340,000 jobs as of 2010, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. Staying on track with new standards would create another 40,000 jobs by 2030.
Part of this phenomenal growth is due to smart state and federal policies that have allowed the clean energy industry to enjoy a fraction of the support that fossil fuels have received over the past century, and continue to receive today. But unlike fossil fuels, clean energy and transportation projects tend to generate more jobs per dollar invested. Wind, solar, biofuels, clean cars, efficiency—these industries need American innovation and entrepreneurship, and they also need boots on the ground to get the work done. Wind turbines need about 8,000 parts, most of which are now manufactured here at home. Solar installers need to get on rooftops in local communities. Contractors, carpenters, HVAC installers, and electricians need to get into basements and attics to make homes and buildings more energy efficient. And somebody needs to climb up 300-foot-tall wind turbines and check the gear boxes—and enjoy the view.
President Obama’s plan to cut carbon pollution could spur the growth of more jobs like these, as Jason Walsh, a senior DOE official, noted at an E2 press conference. NRDC estimates that cutting power plant pollution 26 percent by 2020 will generate an estimated 210,000 new jobs. With smart, consistent policies at the state, local and federal level, clean energy can keep working for all of us, creating jobs, revitalizing communities, and helping maintain clean air, clean water, and a stable climate, now and in the future.