Energy-state lawmakers tend to grouse about high-paying jobs in the oil and gas industry being lost to solar and wind power. But new research shows that most alternative-energy jobs, which have tripled U.S.-wide in just two decades, are concentrated in the states where the traditional energy sector long employed residents and juiced the broader local economy.
With additional training, and a willingness to shift roles, the renewable energy job market appears healthy enough to scoop up workers who may feel displaced by what many are calling the new, green Industrial Revolution.
What’s more, wind and solar jobs tend to offer higher pay than many industries, and these jobs — like those drilling and processing oil and gas, or maintaining rigs — pay competitively without necessarily requiring a college degree.
The research making these claims was issued Monday by E. Mark Curtis, an economics professor at Wake Forest University, and Ioana Marinescu, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice. Their report was shared by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
“Overall, our results suggest that the renewable energy boom will create high-paying job opportunities, especially for low-skilled workers and workers who live in areas with a high share of employment in the oil
industry,” Curtis and Marinescu wrote.
Green jobs tend to be created in occupations that pay about 21% more than the average U.S. salary, the researchers said.
As of 2019, the last year for a robust count, nearly 1.7 million people worked in fossil fuel industries, which include extraction activities such as mining, electricity generation, utility construction, pipelines, and other related manufacturing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Automation and efficiencies, not just “green” replacements, have also reduced traditional energy jobs held by humans.
The work by Curtis and Marinescu shows that between 2013 and 2019, the number of wind job vacancies increased roughly three-fold to 13,438, while the number of solar job vacancies increased roughly five-fold to 52,474. The data collection predates what has been a tightening broader U.S. job market post-COVID, including an unemployment rate that currently stands at 3.5%, matching the lowest level since the 1960s, according to the latest monthly employment report.
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican of Texas, might take a bit more convincing. Cruz in 2021 wrote an op-ed for the Forth Worth Star-Telegram suggesting that “big business” was discriminating against the Texas oil and gas industry when those companies intentionally diverted investments outside of fossil-fuel industries. He supported the state’s right to ban or punish “climate change” investments, he wrote, and he backed the Texas legislature’s “fight to protect energy jobs against the woke mob.”
And Sen. Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat who tends to back the fossil-fuel industries that operate in his state and have supported his campaigns, has been the subject of criticism from newspaper editorial boards who argue he’s mortgaging the future to protect dwindling coal jobs in his state.
Manchin, who got his fellow Democrats to swing back around in support of a fossil-fuel pipeline, did fall into line with the party this week. He backed the just-passed Inflation Reduction Act after earlier standing up against it. The climate- and healthcare-focused spending bill, which was passed out of the Senate over the weekend, now goes to the House for approval. No Senate Republicans voted for the measure.
“‘The renewable energy boom will create high paying job opportunities, especially for low-skilled workers and workers who live in areas with a high share of employment in the oil and gas industry.’”
Researchers at the Brookings Institution have their own findings on the community impacts of a switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
“While the national Republican Party has not generally been proactive in addressing the climate crisis, many Republican-leaning states and counties stand to benefit the most from our transition to a cleaner energy future,” they wrote.
That’s in part because oil majors
have already diversified some of their own holdings to include wind, solar, hydrogen and more. For other states, the weather is conducive to wind and solar as a ready alternative.
“For Republicans representing counties and states that have cost competitive renewable-generation potential, a clean energy economy could make their district more economically competitive and help its existing and prospective workers,” the Brookings team wrote.
Solar jobs are mostly (33%) in sales occupations, and in the utilities industry (16%). Wind jobs are most represented among installation and maintenance occupations (37%), and in the manufacturing industry (29%), the research posted on NBER shows
This growth is in line with the expansion of solar and wind electricity: in particular, the growth of new solar electric capacity follows very closely the growth of solar jobs, the researchers said. Meanwhile, manufacturing is the most common industry for wind jobs, representing over 20% of all wind jobs.
“‘ This data shows clean energy jobs are not red state jobs or blue state jobs — they’re red, white and blue jobs.’”
In a separate report this week, nonprofit advocacy organization — and as it claims, nonpartisan — E2 ( Environmental Entrepreneurs) said it finds that “clean energy” jobs are increasingly in all job markets.
From roof-top solar installers to the technicians upgrading your home HVAC and green-minded urban planners, more than 3.2 million Americans now work in “clean energy” as of the start of 2022, E2’s report said. And while California remains a leader, hiring has spanned red and blue political states from all regions.
It’s a job total that’s up 5% from a year earlier and would have been stronger if not for the slow progress in Congress on the spending bill.
The E2 site allows viewers to search by ZIP code to gauge how strong clean energy jobs are in their area.
“This data shows clean energy jobs are not red state jobs or blue state jobs — they’re red, white and blue jobs,” said Bob Keefe, E2’s executive director.
Hear from top Wall Street energy analysts at the Best New Ideas in Money Festival on Sept. 21 and Sept. 22 in New York. RBC’s Helima Croft will be there.