Statements like these are practically gospel on the Wall Street Journal’s editorial pages:
- Renewables Are an Insignificant Source of Power
- Renewables Are Too Expensive
- Variability Dooms Renewable Energy
- Cheap Natural Gas Is the Enemy of Renewable Energy
So it’s stunning to see them under a large headline in that newspaper titled “Six Myths About Renewable Energy” (link to article). But that’s just where they were on the front page of the Journal’s Energy Report earlier this week.
I don’t expect to see the Journal’s editorial pages endorse this rebuke to their long-standing antipathy to climate change and a de-carbonized economy any time soon. But then I also don’t expect to see pigs applying for landing spots at major metropolitan airports. Still, this is progress and worthy of note.
As to the other two “myths” that they still embrace, one – whether renewables can replace all fossil fuels – is still a long way from being settled. But the other, the claim that “renewable energy means millions of green jobs” is a myth that is much more open to debate and real evidence.
No one is yet claiming that renewable energy has already created millions of jobs. Without a clear national policy or legislation, and with a hostility bred by ideology in many parts of the country, it would be hard to imagine job creation on that scale having happened. But in this as in many things, states are laboratories for innovation, so there are indications that many green jobs can be created with the right policies and determination.
Each year, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center produces a report that documents the status of the Commonwealth’s Clean Energy industry sector. This year’s report, released just last week, documented 80,000 clean energy jobs in Massachusetts, a 24% increase in the last two years. The clean energy workforce has grown by nearly one-third since the first report three years ago. That growth is a direct result of policies, commitment and public support for an economy that reduces reliance on fossil fuels, cuts greenhouse gas emissions and brings innovation and new technologies to energy production and use.
Massachusetts is a national leader in developing new industries and home to a cluster of world-leading research universities, so it’s tempting to dismiss this success as an outlier. But most of the jobs that have been created are not high-end researchers in bleeding-edge technologies. They are across the spectrum of job types in “mature” technologies like PV solar and traditional industries like construction and renovation (increasing energy efficiency in homes and buildings).
So what could happen if states across the US adopted similar goals, policies and attitudes? Let’s do a back-of-the-envelope calculation. Massachusetts’ population is about 6 million; the US, at 300+ million is about 50 times as large. Massachusetts in 2010 had 60,000 clean energy jobs, likely a much larger percentage than many US states. So let’s just consider the growth. The 20,000 jobs added in the last three years is 1/3 of a percent of the state’s population. If the rest of the states took a similar approach, they could see similar growth, whatever their starting levels of employment. That would represent one million jobs.
Massachusetts’ clean energy employers are projecting another 11% growth in 2014, and the emergence of new technologies would accelerate that further. Massachusetts’ experience demonstrates that there is at least the potential for millions of green jobs in the United States. That’s not a certainty, but it’s evidence enough to bust the myth that a commitment to de-carbonizing the economy “won’t create jobs” or is a “job killer”.
There is much more data of interest in the report, including breakdowns by sector and geography, and breakdowns on the job types and activities (e.g sales, installation, engineering, manufacturing). It’s well worth reading.
A few notes about job creation statistics
It’s important to be clear about any estimates of job creation or destruction stemming from policy changes, or from the growth or demise of industries. Many, if not most, claimed numbers include both “direct” and “indirect” job creation (or destruction). Direct jobs are those created in the industry or area in question. A large construction project in a city creates jobs in the building trades – those are the direct jobs. The additional workers in coffee shops and restaurants, and those providing supplies and services to the people and businesses working on the project, are the indirect jobs.
Most studies estimate the number of direct jobs using economic models of employment, less often by sampling. They then apply a standard multiplier to get the indirect effect. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this approach. It’s just important, when looking at the single numbers most often cited by politicians and those advocating for or against something, to ask the questions and get clear answers about what is and isn’t included in the totals and how the estimates were made. You need to decide how confident to feel in the original estimate of direct jobs. You also need to know, when considering two competing claims, that you are looking at comparable numbers (direct jobs only or total jobs including indirect job creation).
In the case of the Massachusetts Clean Energy study, the 80,000 number represents direct jobs only. The total of direct jobs is also estimated differently, and I would argue more accurately, then in many such studies.
Firstly, the number of clean energy jobs is based not on an economic model of industry employment, but on a survey of employers in the defined industry. Direct outreach, via e-mail and telephone surveys, is made to all the employers identified as clean energy companies and to a sample of companies for whom clean energy is a portion of their business. Within those companies for whom clean energy is only a portion of their business, the surveys then identify and count only those full-time workers involved primarily or exclusively in the clean energy portion of the business. For example, in an HVAC firm, the clean energy workers might be those installing Solar PV and solar thermal systems. In a construction firm, they might be those doing energy retrofits. Those direct surveys generate robust results. The information directly received from over 1,200 employers results in a +/- 3.1% margin of error (at a 95% confidence level).
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