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At a time when major U.S. companies are announcing job layoffs almost daily, the renewable energy industry is hiring new workers every day to build wind farms, install rooftop solar arrays, and build solar thermal and geothermal power plants. The output of industrial firms that manufacture the equipment for these energy facilities is expanding by well over 30 percent a year. As I note in my recent Earth Policy Institute Update "Creating New Jobs", these investments both create jobs and help prevent climate change from spiraling out of control.Among the several sources of renewable energy, wind looms large. The United States has 24,000 megawatts of wind generating capacity already online (think 24 coal-fired power plants), and 83 wind farms with some 8,000 megawatts of capacity are under construction. Beyond this, a staggering 225,000 megawatts of planned wind farms are waiting for access to transmission lines.
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Currently, the United States has 40 plants manufacturing wind power components. Eight of these plants are assembling wind turbines, 20 are fabricating wind towers, and 12 are making blades. In addition, many more manufacturing facilities are under construction, recently announced, and in planning. Every billion dollars invested in wind farms creates some 3,350 jobs--nearly four times the 870 jobs created with a similar investment in coal-fired power plants. (See data.)
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With solar cells (photovoltaics), the U.S. growth potential can be seen in the recent expansion from small rooftop installations to commercial generating facilities covering several square miles. A billion dollars invested in solar cell installations generates 1,480 jobs.
Another labor-intensive energy technology is solar thermal power plants that generate 2,270 jobs per billion dollars invested.Â Â
Geothermal energy is another job creator. The United States now has some 96 projects--most of them with a generating capacity ranging from 10 to 350 megawatts--in western states.
Regarding a Detroit bailout, the U.S. goal should be not merely to save U.S. automakers but to make Detroit the world leader in producing high-efficiency plug-in hybrid cars. Replacing one gas-guzzling SUV with a plug-in hybrid will, over the car's lifetime, reduce oil imports by 200 barrels, saving $20,000 of oil imports. Such an initiative multiplied across the fleet would keep hundreds of billions of dollars at home for job-creating U.S. investments.
Another job-creating way to save energy is to invest in urban transit, both light rail and buses. When combined with making streets bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly, this also increases mobility and reduces oil imports.
In terms of job creation, investment in retrofitting buildings creates more than seven times as many jobs as a similar investment in coal-fired power plants. One of the early leaders is Houston, which plans to retrofit each of its 271 government buildings, thus simultaneously reducing energy use and operational costs. As Houston Mayor Bill White says, "It makes good business sense."
Building the new energy economy also creates jobs providing the supply lines that provide, for example, the parts for wind turbines or the thermally efficient windows for retrofitting buildings. These investments also generate jobs outside the energy sector. For example, the construction of a wind farm in a Great Plains community generates jobs in local businesses such as restaurants and home improvement outlets.
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The government's role in this vast job creation initiative is to use public funds as incentives to leverage far greater investments of private capital. We estimate that $100 billion of federal funds used strategically over the next 12 years would leverage $400 billion of private capital investment. If this $500 billion is allocated evenly between renewable energy development (wind, solar, and geothermal) and retrofitting, and if every two jobs created in the energy sector creates one job elsewhere, this would quickly generate 600,000 new jobs that would last through 2020.
The measures described here would simultaneously reduce carbon emissions, lower oil imports, and create millions of new jobs. This is a win-win-win opportunity that we cannot pass by.
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