It Is About the Jobs

Guest Blog | February 4, 2010 | Energy Policy

This post was co-authored by Anne Blair

If there was anything clear in President Obama’s State of the Union address it was the need for JOBS, JOBS, JOBS.  Renewable energy development can deliver on that goal.

“The nation that leads the clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy, and America must be that nation.” —President Barack Obama, January 27, 2010

Spotlight: Bioenergy Jobs in North Carolina


According to one recent study, North Carolina alone could gain more than 127,000 new jobs if we pass a strong national Renewable Electricity Standard (RES).  With NC’s unemployment over 11%, this can begin to make an impact.

This study was commissioned by the Bipartisan Policy Center and looked at the total economic impacts of several different renewable energy standards in North Carolina.  Even if we weren’t in a recession, the results are very interesting.

Dr. Burton English and Dr. Daniel de la Torre Ugarte (including others) performed the study at University of Tennessee – Knoxville, in the Bio-Based Energy Analysis Group.  English and Ugarte found that by 2025 a strong 25% Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) would deliver 127,000 jobs during the investment and construction period, with more than 21,000 permanent jobs operating the new renewable energy generating infrastructure.

The Role of Biomass?
strawbale_in_fieldNC’s farms and woodlands play a big role in this report.  In English & Ugarte’s scenarios, agriculture and forestry will be busy producing, processing and delivering biomass for electricity.  They estimate that “a significant portion, 25% to 30%, of the economic impacts from the additional renewable electricity would be associated with feedstock production.”

Additionally, the total estimated impact of a 25% RES could approach $4.5 billion for the state, with $1.6 billion of that being generated by farms and woodlands.  Average NC farm income could also rise more than $16,000 per year.

Overall employment gains projected by this study are also very significant.  Assuming full implementation of North Carolina’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard, the total number of renewable energy jobs “increases from nearly 18,000 to 44,101 jobs” per year, between 2015 and 2025.


Federal policies under consideration would bring even more jobs to NC.  Under higher renewable standards, the study projects employment increasing “to 127,965 under the 25% RES and 115,410 under the 20% RES.”

However, we think there is even more opportunity.  This study relied upon an overly conservative and somewhat outdated source of data for the biomass resource assessment.  In March 2009 we blogged on this incomplete La Capra report.   Other studies of NC’s renewable energy resources tell us that our potential is likely much higher.

Can I Get A Second Opinion?
Another perspective on biomass jobs is found in the work of Dr. Alan Hodges and Dr. Mohammad Rahmani at the University of Florida.  Hodges’ and Rahmani’s two publications on this topic are the Wood-to-Energy Factsheet and the SAFER Alliance Southern Bioenergy Roadmap. Their projections for direct and indirect employment average 9 jobs per MW.  So, for example, a 10MW biopower plant could stimulate as many as 90 jobs for a local community.


Hodges and Rahmani also examined North Carolina, specifically.  In this factsheet they modeled two hypothetical biopower plants, in Buncombe and Orange Counties.  They found that a 40MW biopower plant in Buncombe County would bring 546 jobs, economic output of $26.65 million per year, and $15.77 million per year of new personal and business income for the area.  For the hypothetical 40MW biopower plant in Orange County, the annual benefits would be 393 new jobs, $22.08 million per year in new economic output, and $14.07 million in new personal and business income.

A 40MW biopower plant in Orange County, NC could bring 393 new jobs, and economic gain of more than $36 million per year.

What does that mean for potential build-out of biopower in NC?  Based on estimates for bioenergy potential in the Southeast (see Local Clean Power), we conservatively expect that NC will gain between 4,600 and 9,200 direct jobs from biopower.

Still another study (released today by the RES Alliance for Jobs) points to 3,000 to 4,000 jobs from the biomass power industry, if boosted by a strong 25% by 2025 policy.  These are permanent jobs, tied to the local base of renewable biomass resources; they can’t be outsourced or off-shored.

All Renewables Help the Planet and the Economy
Efficiency, solar, wind and low-impact hydroelectric are all key elements to rebuilding  our economy while repairing the climate.  We vitally need every clean energy technology that can be brought to the task of reversing climate change.  And we vitally need the jobs and economic benefits these technologies will bring.  Additional studies also show that a strong renewable energy standard, tapping all these resources, can support jobs throughout the supply chain.  Here are a few for your enjoyment:

Navigant Consulting / RES Alliance for Jobs, 2010
Blue Green Alliance, 2009
PERI & Center for American Progress, 2009
UCS Clean Power Jobs Study, 2009
Pew Trusts Clean Energy Economy Report, 2009

North Carolina had more than 505,000 people unemployed as of December.  The same or worse can be found across the Southeast region.  Fortunately, the Southeast is blessed with abundant biomass, solar, wind, and huge potential for efficiency.  With all these opportunities, let’s quit the haggling and pass strong legislation that will put people to work making renewable energy, increasing efficiencies, and rebuilding our economy.

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