Coal Can’t Wish This Away: Clean Energy Jobs Booming in California

We know that cleantech’s dirty energy detractors will try, but it will be tough to shoot down this study on California’s booming clean energy economy.

  • ”Between 1995 and 2009, jobs in California’s Core Green Economy expanded from 111,000 to 174,000, growing 56 percent.”
  • ”From January 2008-09, green jobs expanded by three percent, compared to a one percent increase in overall jobs.”
  • ”While manufacturing employment represents only 11 percent of statewide employment, it represents 26 percent of all green employment. This sector increased ten percent over the most recent observable period (January 2008-2009).”

The growth of the clean energy economy in California, and across the world, is in stark contrast to what’s happening in the declining, dirty energy industry. Take mountaintop removal coal mining, for instance, which is actually shedding jobs left and right.

Mountaintop removal mining is designed specifically to remove the miner from the process, replacing manpower with machinery, and lowering the coal companies’ overhead cost. Coal mining employs fewer people today than it did at the turn of the 19th century. West Virginia, which once employed over 130,000 coal miners, now has a coal mining workforce of about 20,000 miners. Declining coal production and productivity in central Appalachia ensures that this downward trend will continue.

But it’s not just mountaintop removal coal mining that produces fewer jobs and provides a far lower “return on investment” than the clean energy industry (not to mention trashing public property in the process). According to this article in The Nation magazine, it’s pretty much all fossil fuels.

…McKinsey & Company’s 2009 report “Unlocking Energy Efficiency in the U.S. Economy” shows that for every dollar spent making buildings and appliances more efficient, we’ll get two in return. What other investment can match that? The same report estimates that the United States could reduce annual energy consumption by 23 percent with net dollar savings (not counting savings in transportation from vehicles, which would add more). And this is based on the price of fossil fuels remaining constant, which it won’t.

Meanwhile, it is well established that labor-intensive investments in solar, wind and increased building efficiency create far more jobs than similar investments in fossil fuels. These technologies will most likely go down in cost while fossil prices will only go up long-term. And with a renewable energy economy, there is no cost of fuel or fuel price volatility. Imagine that.

Though California’s economy and population has grown, its energy use has flatlined due to some of the smartest energy policies in the nation.

And all those benefits don’t even touch on the fact that clean energy and energy efficiency don’t pollute, don’t send money to foreign dictatorships that hate America, don’t drive our massive trade imbalance, don’t ruin water supplies or other public property. Yes, we’ve made those points before, but it’s important to make them again and again. That’s the sort of full-contact game that cleantech needs to play.