The Renewable Energy Jobs Myth

One of the largest myths about addressing climate change is that transitioning to renewable energy from fossil fuels (especially coal) will create a net loss of American jobs. 

However, renewable energy is doing the opposite of putting Americans out of work. The New York Times reported that in 2016 coal was responsible for 160,119 jobs. In contrast solar employed more than double that amount (373,807 Americans). 

The number of renewable jobs is also expected to grow significantly in the coming years. Last year, Business Insider reported that “solar and wind jobs are growing at a rate 12 times as fast as the rest of the US economy and… 46% of large firms have hired additional workers to address issues of sustainability over the past two years.”

In addition to renewables' contribution to overall employment in the United States, there are a number of other economic benefits to American workers when we encourage growth in the renewable energy industry:

Geographic Distribution

While fossil fuel jobs tend to be concentrated in a few states (the vast majority of jobs in coal exist in West Virginia or Wyoming.), renewable energy jobs are spread out around the country. Program Director Liz Delaney at the Environmental Defense Fund points out that “These jobs [in the renewable energy sector] are widely geographically distributed, they're high paying, they apply to both manufacturing and professional workers, and there are a lot of them.”

Supporting and encouraging the renewable energy industry will help hundreds of thousands of Americans find jobs all across the country. These are not simply installation jobs either, maintenance is a large part of the renewable energy industry. 

Small Businesses

Environmental Defense Fund Program Director Delaney also mentions that “70% of the 2.2 million Americans who work in jobs related to energy efficiency are employed by companies with 10 employees or fewer.” These are small businesses, hiring American workers, in one of the fastest growing sectors of the economy. In addition, according to Delaney these jobs are also more difficult to outsource because “many sustainability jobs involve installation, maintenance, and construction.” The renewable energy sector is encouraging small business development in America. 

Ultimately, encouraging the development of the renewable energy sector is the best path forward for America. Concerns about lost jobs in the fossil fuel and coal industries are legitimate and important to recognize, but those lost jobs should not hinder progress towards a renewable future. This is why training programs should be encouraged to support fossil fuel workers move to other sectors or be trained in budding renewable technology. The New York Times reports that “In Wyoming, home to the nation’s most productive coal region by far, the American subsidiary of a Chinese maker of wind turbines is putting together a training program for technicians in anticipation of a large power plant it expects to supply. And in West Virginia, a nonprofit outfit called Solar Holler… is working with another group, Coalfield Development, to train solar panel installers and seed an entire industry.” These successful test cases demonstrate that America can work towards renewable energy while also supporting and training workers to transition from fossil fuels to renewables in the same way that America is transitioning.

The claim that renewable energy is a job killer or a drain on our economy is a myth, perpetrated by the fossil-fuel business and the politicians who do their bidding. Don't fall for it. Renewable energy is the path forward for American jobs and the future of our planet.

For republishing permission for this or any other article, video or piece of content on The Sanders Institute website, email [email protected] with the title of the article in the subject line.