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Boom! US Clean Energy Jobs Top 3 Million (Counting Natural Gas & Nuclear)

By: Tina Casey, Clean Technica
February 22, 2017

So…why exactly does the US economy need the Dakota Access Pipeline or, for that matter, the Keystone XL Pipeline? The clean energy industry has been creating plenty of new jobs to go around, as demonstrated by the latest news from the business organization Advanced Energy Economy. AEE has toted up the numbers and it all adds up to more than three million clean energy jobs.

Before we dig into the numbers, let’s note for the record that three million jobs sounds spicy but the bulk of those jobs are related to energy efficiency in buildings and products. AEE also includes natural gas and nuclear in the category of “clean” when it comes to toting up energy production jobs, so there’s that.

So, Whatever Happened To All Those Coal Jobs?

AEE’s new analysis is aimed at making comparisons with competing sectors of the economy, and that probably explains why the organization’s press release emphasized a comparison to the retail and building trades, leaving coal out of the picture.

Although coal jobs loomed large in the presidential campaign last year, they actually account for a very small part of the US employment landscape.

That’s primarily due to a generations-long trend toward mechanization and other labor-saving practices such as mountaintop removal.

Competition from natural gas (shoutout to newly minted Secretary of State Ralph Tillerson!) has also exerted downward pressure on coal jobs in recent years.

According to our friends over at SourceWatch, here’s the dismal picture:

There are approximately 174,000 blue-collar, full-time, permanent jobs related to coal in the U.S.: mining (83,000), transportation (31,000), and power plant employment (60,000). (See below for details on each sector.) The U.S. civilian labor force totaled 141,730,000 workers in 2005; thus, permanent blue-collar coal industry employees represent 0.12% of the U.S. workforce. (Compare this percentage with the 1.89% of U.S. workers who worked in coal mining alone in 1920.)

By way of comparison, Sourcewatch notes that in 1920 almost 2% of US workers were coal miners. However, back then much of that consisted of pick-and-shovel handwork.

Before we exit the topic of coal mining, let’s note for the record that coal miners suffering from black lung disease have much to lose from President Donald Trump’s pledge to repeal Obamacare, aka the Affordable Care Act.

3 Million Clean Energy Jobs!!!

Where were we? Oh right, three million jobs. According to AEE, that’s about as many workers that populate our retail stores, of which there are a plethora. The three million mark is also about two times the number of jobs in the field of building construction.

AEE’s Advanced Energy Now 2016 Market Report also notes that revenue from “the wide range of advanced energy goods and services” added up to $200 billion in 2015, putting the clean sector over that of pharmaceuticals manufacturing.

The AEE announcement is part of a broader campaign organized with the American Council on Renewable Energy, the energy service company organization AJW, Business Council for Sustainable Energy, and Alliance to Save Energy along with some familiar names: the American Wind Energy Association, Energy Storage Association, and Solar Energy Industries Association.

The meat of the campaign is a social media element encouraging clean sector workers and their companies to share their stories, in hopes of making the point that hey, the clean sector employs a lot of people.

Jobs related to efficiency account for about 2.2 million workers out of the total. That includes building efficiency as well as manufacturing jobs related to efficient appliances and other products.

The numbers for clean energy production add up to 600,000. Again, by “clean” AEE means arguably cleaner than coal because it includes natural gas and nuclear in that category.

When you break that down by type (wind, solar, biomass, etc.) the individual figures aren’t quite as impressive compared to coal, but some types of clean production stack up in the range of coal employment.

Solar, for example, accounted for more than 260,000 jobs last year according to The Solar Foundation.

According to AWEA, wind currently accounts for more than 100,000 jobs in 43 states.

Biofuel production accounts for another 100,000 according to AEE.

Rounding out the three million, AEE cites federal statistics on storage and grid technologies (100,000 workers) and 200,000 workers in clean transportation including fuel cell EVs as well as hybrids and battery EVs.

More Energy Efficiency Jobs On The Way

Getting back to the efficiency sector, the US Department of Energy recently surveyed employers on their hiring plans for 2017.

According to the survey, the US can anticipate adding about 198,000 more workers in the energy efficiency field.

That easily tops the current total for coal employment.

As for clawing back coal jobs to anywhere near the level of just a few years ago, good luck with that.

Rolling back the new Stream Protection Rule, for example, would save an estimated 250 or so jobs.

In comparison, the number of coal jobs at mine sites alone has fallen by 20,000 over the past five years.

According to USA EIA there were 86,000 jobs at coal mine sites in 2010.

Coal jobs at mine sites added up to just under 66,000 workers in 2015.