Green energy holds the promise of untold benefits to the environment, but there are other advantages not to be overlooked.
Wind turbines, solar panels, geothermal plants, and biofuel refineries all require raw materials to construct. Somebody has to produce those raw materials. Somebody has to design the units. Somebody has to build them. Somebody has to install them. Somebody has to maintain them. All of that labor brings with it a vast array of associated jobs: information technology, engineering, human resources, accounting, marketing, communications, transportation.
The implications of this cascade have not been lost on governments eager to find a replacement for the automotive industry — a major economic driver — now in turmoil.
Ontario’s Potential Job Bonanza
Consider, for example, what the province of Ontario, Canada is doing.
Professor Robert Pollin, co-director of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and an expert in the economics of building a clean-energy economy, studied two possible job creation scenarios.
The first scenario is based on the results seen in European countries that have enacted laws similar to those proposed by Ontario’s Green Energy Act. (The Act addresses smart grid technology, energy storage, conservation, pricing, regulatory and approvals processes, and more.) Under this scenario, a government investment of $47.1 billion over 10 years could result in the creation of 90,000 jobs per year. Employment figures would increase over time as investments in conservation, renewable energy, recycling waste energy, and smart grid upgrades increased.
The second scenario is somewhat more modest. It’s based on the green energy investments proposed in the Ontario Power Authority’s plan for rebuilding the province’s electricity system. That plan calls for $18.6 billion over 10 years, creating 35,000 jobs per year.
Either way, the prospect is encouraging.
Dr. Keith Stewart, Climate Change Campaign Manager for WWF-Canada, commented, “This study shows that the Green Energy Act could create far more than the 50,000 new jobs promised by the government, but only if we raise our level of green power ambition above and beyond what was in the old electricity plan.”
The expectation is that most of the jobs created would pay more than $20 per hour and encompass everything from professional services to construction, mining, and fabrication. To ensure the greatest gain for the province, the study recommends increasing local sourcing.
Ontario is not alone in looking to green investments to create jobs.
Global Investment, Global Benefits
As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the U.S. will spend $2.4 billion on development of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, with the anticipated benefit of tens of thousands of new jobs. Another $8 billion will be spent on weatherization funding and energy efficiency grants, expected to create 87,000 jobs.
The UK’s “Low Carbon Industrial Strategy” projects an increase of 1 million jobs by 2015 on the investment of several billion pounds.
In Germany, the Deputy Environment Minister Astrid Klug said, “Climate protection is a real job motor for Germany.” He anticipates that the number of jobs in his country’s renewable energy sector could triple by 2020 from its current 250,000, reaching 900,000 by 2030.
Given the combination of environmental and economic benefits, it’s certain we’ll see more governments investing in green energy, reaping more green jobs in return.