Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released their proposed Clean Power Plan. As readers of this blog are already aware, the Clean Power Plan proposes carbon emission standards for coal-fired power plants, which are the single largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., generating approximately one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions. Some specifics are that under the Clean Power Plan, states must expand their energy sources and use solar (photovoltaic and solar thermal), wind, geothermal, sustainably sourced biomass, biogas, and low-impact hydrology in order to decrease their carbon emissions.
Did you know that renewable energy technologies are characteristically more labor-intensive than intensely mechanized fossil fuel technologies? This means that the potential economic benefits may be substantial; not to mention the significant benefits for our climate and health.
The solar industry employed over 100,000 workers in jobs ranging from solar manufacturing and sales to installation according to the Solar Foundation in 2011. Solar jobs grew by 20% percent in 2013 and 2014 is expected to create 22,000 jobs. Furthermore, these statistics were reported before the EPA plan was released, which may further boost the renewable job sector.
Let’s look at wind energy. The amount of domestically manufactured equipment used in wind turbines doubled from 35% in 2006 to 70% in 2011 with 560 factories directly employing 75,000 full-time employees.
The hydroelectric power industry also plays a role. Statistics show in 2009 it employed 250,000 people. As many as 700,000 jobs could be generated if the hydropower industry installs a new capacity of 23,000 – 60,000 megawatts (MW) by 2025. Rounding out our look at the renewable energy sector, the geothermal industry directly employed 5,200 people in 2010.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) estimated in 2009 that a national, renewable electricity standard attempting to cut 25% of carbon emissions by 2025 would generate 297,000 jobs, $263.4 billion in new capital investment, $13.5 billion in income to farmers, ranchers, and rural landowners, and $11.5 billion in new local tax revenues. Remember, the EPA proposed reducing carbon emissions from existing power plants by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. So the potential economic benefits may increase over the UCS’s estimates.
With these figures, we’re not even taking into account a complete picture of the potential economic benefits from expanded renewable energy sources. Think about how direct job creation leads to indirect job creation. For example, when you hire additional employees, you may very well need a larger Human Resources staff.
All of this comes at a time when our country could deeply benefit from economic stimulation. The U.S. economy is still anemic, with unemployment rates remaining high, and a disturbing national debt that’s expected to reach $20 trillion by 2020. We must embrace win-win scenarios such as these that combine healing our ailing planet with economic recovery. It’s past time to forge the path to a low-carbon future.