American Solar Jobs Eclipse Fossil Fuels

Clean energy jobs in California now outnumber jobs in the fossil fuel industry five to one, a new study has found, an increase driven by the state’s ever-expanding renewable energy and climate laws.

More than 512,000 people are employed in jobs related to clean energy  — from installing solar panels to building electric cars — making the state home to 1 in 7 such jobs in the United States, the study found. Those numbers are expected to grow further in the coming years, as California further ramps up efforts to address climate change.

“The clean energy industry is a large and growing part of our economy, certainly here in California, but nationally as well,” said Bob Keefe, executive director of Environmental Entrepreneurs, a non-profit group with offices in San Francisco and San Diego that compiled the data.

“With the right policies, we can keep these clean energy jobs growing in red states, blue states, purple states,” Keefe said, “and in every county in California from Humboldt to San Diego.” 

The study was based on an annual survey of businesses called the 2019 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, a snapshot of the energy industry that in the past was put out by the U.S. Department of Energy.

But the survey was discontinued after President Trump took office in 2017. In recent years, the report has been compiled instead by two non-profit groups using the same methodology, the Energy Futures Initiative, and the National Association of State Energy Officials.

Among the study’s findings for California:

  • Statewide, there were 512,934 jobs in the clean energy industry in 2018. Those included jobs in renewable energy, like installing solar and wind power, building electric and hybrid vehicles, doing energy efficiency work in buildings, manufacturing clean fuels and building battery storage projects.
  • That same year, there were 89,059 jobs in fossil fuel industries, including drilling jobs at oil and gas fields and offshore platforms, oil refinery work and mining jobs, but not attendants who work at gas stations or the stations’ convenience stories.
  • Nearly four in 10 solar jobs in America are in California.
  • The only state with more clean vehicle jobs than California is Michigan.
  • The top counties ranked by total clean energy jobs are Los Angeles, Orange, Santa Clara, San Diego, San Francisco and Alameda.

Growth was largely flat last year compared to the year before, the study found. California’s 2018 clean jobs total was just slightly up from its 2017 total of 512,233 clean jobs. The reason was a 7.5 percent dip in solar industry jobs, which industry officials say was in part a result of tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on Chinese-made solar panels, which increased the costs for U.S. homeowners considering installing solar on their roofs.

That trend is expected to change this year, Keefe said, because California regulators have passed new rules requiring all new homes constructed after Jan. 1, 2020 to either have solar panels on their roofs or be powered from electricity from a solar farm.

“We’ll start to see that swing back in the other direction very soon,” he said.

As the Earth continues to warm, California has ramped up its clean energy laws. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law requiring 60 percent of the state’s electricity to come from solar, wind and other renewable sources by 2030 and 100 to come from “carbon-free” sources, which can include nuclear and large hydro-electric dams, by 2045.

This year, 34 percent of the state’s electricity is generated from renewable energy, according to the California Energy Commission. The state’s greenhouse gas emissions peaked in 2004, and have fallen roughly 15 percent since then. By the end of this year, more than 1 million homes in California will have solar power on their roofs.

And the highways are greening. There are now more than 500,000 electric vehicles on the road in California, more than any other state.

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