Guest opinion: Cleaner energy generating jobs for Americans – Billings Gazette, Nov. 24, 2012

November 26, 2012

Categories: Clean Energy, Fossil Fuels, Member news, Plains Speaking

By Ben Reed

Renewable energy puts people to work, and does it better than coal. According to the National Mining Association, coal employs 136,000 people in the entire United States. That might seem like a lot of people and it might seem, as so many advocates for the fossil fuel industry are saying, like developing more coal would be a good way to put people to work. However, right now three states each employ more people in clean technology jobs than the coal industry employs in the entire country (Texas has 144,081 people employed in clean technology, California has 318,156, and New York has 185,038).

In Montana, we have 1,218 coal-related jobs, and 14,235 green jobs — that’s 10 times as many people working in clean technologies as are working in coal-related jobs, and that number is increasing exponentially.

Looking at the solar industry alone, as of August 2011, there were more than 100,000 solar workers in the United States, more than double the estimated employment in 2009. According to the Solar Foundation, an independent research organization, there has been an additional 13 percent growth in high-skilled solar jobs spanning installations, sales, marketing, manufacturing and software development — bringing total direct jobs to 119,000 in this sector as of the first of November 2012. These workers are employed at 5,600 businesses operating at more than 6,500 locations in every state nationwide.

These jobs are injecting life into the U.S. economy when we desperately need it, creating opportunities for investment and profit. In 2011, solar installations were valued at $8.4 billion, compared to $6 billion in 2010. That is an annual increase in value from this industry of 40 percent per year. That growth rate cannot be matched by coal (or most other industries).

The utilities segment drove the U.S. solar market in the second quarter of 2012, with 477 megawatts of installed solar electric capacity. Eight states had 10 MW or more of utility installations. At the same time, there were 98 MW of residential installations, up 42 percent over 2011.

In the rapidly expanding commercial solar market, large chain stores, like Walmart, Costco and Kohl’s, increasingly rely on rooftop solar power to help meet their energy needs. Ikea, one of the commercial top 20 solar implementers, plans to have solar arrays on almost all of its furniture stores and distribution centers by the end of this year. At Walgreen’s, solar power is becoming so common that the chain has changed its standard design template to more easily accommodate the equipment.

Any further improvement in the nation’s economy is going to be driven by expanding investments in sectors that are already growing, and will also be the driving force for decades to come. The green, or clean tech energy jobs, are already leading the way. Development of clean energy not only helps the economy with jobs for people, it adds value/wealth throughout our economy, it gives us greater energy independence, improves homeland security, and leaves us a cleaner environment for all to enjoy.


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