Millions of Americans tuned in to watch the first debate at Long Island’s Hofstra University. They watched the candidates answer big questions about the economy. While Trump and Clinton disagreed about how to spur growth and create more jobs, they didn’t disagree about the need to do so.
The energy sector is one place that is both losing and gaining jobs. Amidst the election hubbub, it can be tough to get a sense of the current state of affairs. So let’s take a moment to look at the facts.
As of the second quarter of 2015, more than 2.5 million Americans were employed in clean energy, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Energy. The number of these jobs is growing. Employment of wind turbine service technicians is projected to increase by 108 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations, including technology and healthcare.
Compare this to the roughly 880,000 Americans who work directly in the fossil fuel industry. From 2008 to 2012, the wind and solar industries gained almost 80,000 jobs, while the coal industry lost almost 50,000 jobs, according to a Duke University study.
As Katie Fehrenbacher wrote in Fortune earlier this week, solar companies in the United States now employ more people than Apple, Twitter, Google and Facebook combined.
Unfortunately, the states with the richest fossil fuel resources aren’t always the sunniest or windiest states — Wyoming notwithstanding. Not every unemployed fossil fuel worker will be able to find a job in wind or solar. And even where that’s possible, workers will need to be retrained.
But new industries are equipping workers for new opportunities.
Just this week, Solar Alliance Energy, a San Diego-based company, announced plans to build a community solar generation and battery storage project in Southern Illinois. As part of the project, 30 former coal industry workers will be retrained to work on the project.
In the case of the new Block Island wind farm, located off the coast of Rhode Island, an oil and gas services company based in Houston supplied its expertise and resources to build the five turbine foundations for the farm. Executives at the firm said they have long eyed offshore wind as an opportunity, especially during downturns in the boom-and-bust oil business.
The burgeoning offshore wind industry on the East Coast is also attracting investors and equipment-makers like Siemens, Vestas and DONG Energy. Because offshore turbines are difficult to transport, it’s expected that these European-based companies will set up production facilities on the East Coast, thus generating manufacturing opportunities.
Fostering a growing and diverse economy is the most important issue to voters this election year, and the opportunities associated with clean energy jobs cannot be overlooked as a major contributor to that economy.
Steve Hargreaves and Courtney St. John write for Nexus Media, a syndicated newswire covering climate, energy, policy, art and culture. You can follow them at @shargrea and @CourtSaintJohn.