Here in Pennsylvania, energy production is a part of our history and an integral component of our economy. As a part of our past, coal powered our state forward. Natural gas development might seem as though it will be the future, as some have recently argued. But Pennsylvania’s energy future can be more varied and compelling than one powered by fossil fuels alone. We must forge the vision for a clean energy future that is powered by renewable energy to advance a healthy citizenry and prosperous economy — and it is already underway, here and now.
We must recognize that natural gas is not, in itself, the end game. Indeed, an economic vision based on a finite fossil fuel is inherently unsustainable. Rather, natural gas must be positioned as part of a transition strategy to a truly renewable energy economic vision, particularly as our world gets hotter, access to traditional energy becomes more volatile, and natural resources become more scarce.
Already, renewable energy and efficiency are surging to comprise a large and fast-growing segment of our state’s employee base. Recently, Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and Keystone Energy Efficiency Alliance (KEEA) released the Clean Jobs Pennsylvania 2017 report, providing timely insight to the fast rise of employment in the clean energy sector. This refers principally to the industries of renewable energy (wind, solar, hydropower), energy efficiency, clean vehicles, and smart grid jobs (which make our electricity system more flexible and renewables-friendly). The types of jobs include construction, manufacturing, professional services among engineers, software developers, marketing pros, electricians, and construction workers. Clean energy jobs are for everyone, and they are everywhere.
Nearly 70,000 Pennsylvanians have clean energy jobs, with the report finding an increase in these jobs of 6 percent from last year and strong projected future growth. It should also be noted that this employment figure is double that of fossil fuel jobs. Clean energy is a job creation powerhouse and we can put even more Pennsylvanians to work in these industries. In fact, the nation’s fastest–growing occupation is wind turbine technician, a position with an average salary of $52,000 per year that is expected to grow 108 percent by 2024.
Growth is indeed a big part of this news. Consider that renewable energy comprised just 5 percent of Pennsylvania’s mix compared to the national average of 15 percent. Yet jobs across the clean energy spectrum (including those such as building retrofit, high-efficiency HVAC installation, and so on) grew by an astonishing 15 percent in Pennsylvania over the past two years. Massachusetts, with half our population, already has twice the clean energy jobs of Pennsylvania due to that state’s economically focused clean energy policies. The economic potential is enormous.
U.S. utilities alone invested $7.5 billion in energy efficiency and demand-side management last year, up 17 percent over the past five years. When you also consider the 60 percent growth in the global market for electric vehicles in 2016, the picture is clear that the clean energy economy is driving innovations that equate to opportunity — for programmers, engineers, and production workers, as well as installers and technicians. In addition to new revenue and tax streams, these opportunities mean sustainable livelihoods and better living in a more climate-stable, less-polluted world.
Given the massive potential for increased energy efficiency and renewable energy generation, our state and region can become a powerhouse in clean energy employment and generation. Allegheny County is already top-ranked in the state in terms of overall clean energy jobs. For these reasons, leaders are coming together right now to develop an energy-efficiency and renewable energy plan to further the trends of sustainable development for our region.
Our future economic prosperity should not be staked on natural gas fuel growth alone. Leading companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon have corporate clean energy procurement goals that we should position Pennsylvania to meet. As companies like Amazon and others that are eyeing our region are sure to be considering in their expansion plans, we must forge a comprehensive vision for a cleaner, healthier, job-rich future based on growth of renewable energy and related energy-efficiency as well.