In Case You Missed It, There’s a Clean Energy Jobs Boom in Tennessee

Guest Blog | July 31, 2015 | Clean Transportation, Electric Vehicles, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Tennessee

Clean energy means different things to different people. Some might picture suburban rooftops adorned in sparkly solar panels on a bright summer day. Others might envision an idyllic green-grass, blue-sky pasture framing an expanse of pearly white wind turbines.

However, for many Tennesseans, clean energy means a rewarding career with above-average pay. A recent statewide survey performed by BW Research found that there are nearly 45,000 clean energy jobs in Tennessee, and that figure is growing rapidly.

The results of the survey are detailed in a report entitled, “Clean Jobs Tennessee: Sizing Up Tennessee’s Clean Energy Jobs Base and its Potential,” which was released on July 29 by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2). E2 has released similar studies in several other states, and the Congressional Research Office has recognized BW Research’s methodology for producing the most accurate data available.

In the 12 months leading up to the survey, during which over 16,000 employers were contacted in late March through mid-April of this year, Tennessee saw a 6.3% increase in clean energy employment. This represents one of the highest rates of clean energy jobs creation in any state that has been studied. And our state’s clean energy jobs boom is far from over, with surveyed employers expecting to see a similar growth rate of 5.7% during the following 12 months. Tennessee’s clean energy industry is growing at three times the rate of the broad economy, which saw an overall increase in employment of 2.2% last year.

It is important to put the magnitude of clean energy job creation into perspective, especially as it increasingly eclipses traditional segments of the energy industry. According to the Solar Foundation’s 2014 National Solar Jobs Census, there are 173,807 workers in the U.S. solar industry, which increased by 21.8% from 2013. By comparison, the latest data from the federal Energy Information Administration indicates that there were 80,396 workers in the U.S. coal mining industry in 2013, which was down 10.5% from 2012. That’s right – the solar industry already employs well over twice as many Americans as the coal mining industry, and the gap is increasing by leaps and bounds.

In Tennessee, the difference is even greater, with only 297 people employed in the coal mining business in 2013 – an 18.2% decrease from 2012. When Tennesseans think about energy jobs, we should remember that for every person employed in coal mining, there are about 150 people employed in clean energy in our state.

Clean energy workers also tend to be well compensated. According to E2, clean energy jobs across the country provide wages that are 13% higher than the median U.S. wage. That means that clean energy represents not only a way to reduce unemployment, but also a way to increase household income for workers looking for a better opportunity. More jobs with better pay also means economic growth, which can benefit everyone – whether they work in clean energy or not.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan, which is likely to be released in its final form early next week, is expected to further stimulate clean energy job growth both in Tennessee and nationwide. E2 expects that the new carbon standards could lead to the creation of 274,000 energy efficiency jobs nationwide, in addition to renewable energy and other sectors. The Clean Power Plan could also stimulate job creation and economic growth outside of the clean energy industry by saving businesses and residents on their utility bills. Upon the release of the draft rule, the EPA projected a typical bill reduction of 8%, assuming that states pursue significant investments in energy efficiency. And according to a recent analysis of the draft rule by Synapse Energy Economics, American households and businesses could save $41 billion on their electricity bills by 2030 if states adopt compliance strategies that focus on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

“As a Tennessee-based employer focused on energy efficiency and renewable energy services, I have seen firsthand how clean energy can save our industry and commercial companies significant operating expense,” said Daniel LeVan, managing director at Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Consulting in Chattanooga. “By helping our clients reduce their utility bills, clean energy enables local businesses to be more competitive and expand their businesses, often by new employment opportunities. Our state can strengthen its economic climate by taking advantage of the new opportunities created by smart policies like the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

The clean energy jobs counted in the Tennessee survey include a variety of roles in energy efficiency, renewable energy, alternative transportation, and greenhouse gas management and accounting. The study found that the energy efficiency sector comprises nearly half of the clean energy jobs in Tennessee, at 47% of the total. Renewable energy supplies 37% of the total, with solar making up 70% of the represented technologies, which also include biomass, geothermal, combined heat and power, hydropower, wind power, and more. Alternative transportation – which consists of electric vehicles and systems, as well as electric rail – provides 12.3% of Tennessee’s clean energy jobs.

Compared to other states that have been studied, Tennessee has a strong manufacturing sector, representing 29% of clean-energy jobs statewide, which is nearly three times the percentage in Pennsylvania, the state with the second-highest percentage. Clean energy manufacturers in Tennessee include makers of ENERGY STAR appliances, the Nissan Leaf factory in Smyrna, at least 10 facilities that produce wind turbine components, and many more.

The initial results of the study were presented at a conference entitled “The Clean Power Plan: Health, Energy Demand and Economic Effects,” which took place May 18-19, 2015, and was co-hosted by Vanderbilt University Law School and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

As Tennessee’s clean energy industry continues to expand, we can expect to see rapid job creation, lower utility bills and promising economic growth for years to come. The next time you think about clean energy in Tennessee, you should think about jobs.

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