Renewable Energy Powers Job Growth

Posted by Cara Scharf on June 19, 2011
Renewable Energy Powers Job Growth

President Obama's first several months in office have been, in a word, ambitious. But he hasn't lost sight of one primary issue: increasing America's renewable energy capacity. Nowhere is Obama's commitment to this goal more apparent than in the recently signed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), which focuses heavily on renewable energy, giving the industry unique job growth potential in a dismal market.

The ARRA is a boost for an industry that grew quickly before the economic crisis, but that was hit hard by a lack of investors and stable lenders, says Samantha Byrd, human resources director at the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE). "Now, renewable energy will have the government backing it needs to move forward."

Initiatives in the bill include tax credits and grants for renewable energy developers and funding for infrastructure projects like creating a smart energy grid. Though it is still too early to say exactly how many long-term jobs these initiatives will create, so far the reaction from the renewable energy industry has been positive.

"This is the first time the U.S. has seen such long regulatory stability," says Roby Roberts, senior vice president of external relations at wind turbine manufacturer Vestas Americas. "It reduces risk and uncertainty for both investors and manufacturers." The friendlier market will put Vestas in a better position to establish their U.S. research and manufacturing base and continue hiring through 2010. Roberts says talent will be needed to support research and development, sales, construction, and maintenance of wind power plants.

Jim Welch, CEO of Colorado solar energy company Bella Energy and president of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association, echoes those claims for the solar industry. "We will definitely see an increased demand for solar energy systems all over the U.S.," says Welch. "We're still waiting for more specifics, but the [solar] industry is poised to create 119,000 jobs over the next two years at all levels-from carpenters and roofers to marketing people and executives."

Energy infrastructure projects are expected to create a significant need for workers in the public sector. Funds dedicated to weatherizing low-income homes will create 260,000 direct jobs in management and construction, and 115,000 indirect jobs for suppliers and educators, according to the Weatherization Assistance Program website. In addition, the proposed smart electricity grid could increase hiring at the state level where the project will develop, and at utility and electricity companies who will carry out the project.

The Department of Energy has also said that more workers will be needed to process the influx of loan applications that will surely accompany the ARRA. Byrd speculates that a lot of this work will go out to government contracting firms like Lockheed Martin, adding that the reverberation of job creation is "what the stimulus is all about."

The ARRA's strong focus on renewables raises the question of whether large oil and gas companies will suffer. Byrd is quick to answer: "I don't think we'll see oil men out on the street." Instead, companies like BP and Chevron will likely spend more on developing renewable energy projects already in progress. "Oil companies will probably transfer manpower into science and renewables because now that investment makes sense."

What's in the bill for renewable energy
  • An extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and access to the Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for wind, geothermal, biomass, hydropower, landfill gas, waste-to-energy and marine facilities
  • The option for developers of renewable energy to choose a 30 percent grant from the Treasury Department instead of a tax credit
  • Federal initiatives such as $11 billion to create a smart electricity grid, $5 billion to weatherize homes, and $300 million to the Department of Defense for research and development of efficient sources
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