Leaving clean energy policies to states can spur jobs — study

Source: Daniel Cusick, E&E reporter • Posted: Friday, April 8, 2016

State policies that promote advanced energy technologies could stimulate more than 160,000 new jobs annually in the Southeast and establish long-term economic stability for states from Florida to Virginia, new research from the American Jobs Project shows.

In Rust Belt states Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, advances in wind and solar power, along with smart buildings and energy efficiency, could drive the creation of an additional 50,000 high-wage jobs annually, the Berkeley, Calif.-based group found.

“Our research shows that smart policies and a focus on industrial clusters can allow states to become hubs of innovation and job creation in advanced energy industries that dovetail with a state’s own strengths,” Hank Love, project manager for the American Jobs Project, said of a series of new reports focused on job growth in 10 states.

The American Jobs Project, whose findings are supported by policy experts like former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) and former Secretary of State George Shultz (R), says it is committed to identifying policy approaches “to create bottom-up strategies that create good-paying jobs in the advanced energy industry.”

“Unlike a federal solution, a state-based strategy can readily achieve broad political support if properly framed,” the group said. “We focus on solutions, taking into account the nuances of public opinion and political feasibility, knowing that one size does not fit all.”

The new findings align with other recent studies showing that greater investment in advanced energy — from wind and solar power to biofuels to electric vehicle batteries and power storage — can bolster the economies of U.S. states and regions, including those hardest hit by the 2009 recession.

“Unfortunately, many of the jobs created during the recovery have been in relatively low-skill, low-income occupations,” the American Jobs Project said in a release.

Alternatively, states should make greater use of policies that are “informed by principles of competition, local control, and less red tape.” These include “aligning manufacturing with critical economic system components, including access to capital, innovation ecosystems and workforce development,” the group said.

A boon for manufacturing states?

The 10 state-specific reports were produced in collaboration with government officials and experts at universities in each of the states evaluated by the project. In addition to the Southeastern and Midwestern states, the group evaluated advanced-energy-sector employment in Iowa, Colorado and Nevada.

Among other things, the experts found that advanced energy manufacturing could be a good fit for states that have strong foundations in equipment manufacturing, skilled labor forces, well-established research institutions, and untapped energy resources such as solar and wind that could generate electricity.

Florida, for example, has one of the nation’s best foundations for creating new advanced energy jobs, with an existing $6.2 billion sector employing more than 130,000 people. But, the report found, the Sunshine State could add nearly 100,000 more jobs to that sector through 2030 if it adopts policies promoting two technologies: solar power and biofuels.

In particular, experts say Florida should promote community-based solar that allows for multi-party ownership of solar generation, and where panels can be located at sites away from where the energy will be consumed. Florida also should adopt more favorable net-metering policies that allow excess solar generation to be sold to local utilities at retail rates, the group said.

Similarly, Georgia and Ohio could each add roughly 25,000 jobs annually between 2016 and 2030 if they embrace policies that promote renewable energy, energy efficiency and smart buildings.

“Georgia has a well-established innovation ecosystem, strong education, research and development, and is home to many Fortune 500 companies,” the report said. It also “already has innovative economic clusters in smart buildings and solar.”

Ohio, by comparison, is already a center for advanced manufacturing and engineering. But “several barriers [are] hindering Ohio’s advanced energy industries and preventing supply chains from reaching their full potential.” Among its recommendations, the report says Ohio should encourage greater investment in the wind energy sector by adopting state-based production and investment tax credits.

A recent study by the Department of Energy found that 3.64 million Americans work in traditional energy industries, including power generation, transmission and distribution. Of those, roughly 600,000 work in low-carbon energy sectors, including renewables, nuclear power and natural gas.

About 1.9 million people work in the energy efficiency sector, which is projecting to hire 260,000 workers this year, a 14 percent jump. Solar energy firms — which currently employ about 300,000 Americans — are projecting a 15 percent growth rate this year (Greenwire, March 25).