John Spezia: Clean energy industry growing

When the president announced his energy plan, he declared that he would end “job-killing restrictions on shale, oil, natural gas and clean, beautiful coal and put our coal miners back to work.” A few days later, the Navajo Generating power plant, announced it would shut down the facility in 2019 because of “rapidly changing economics of the energy industry.”

Meanwhile, jobs in solar and wind power and energy efficiency are booming. More than 3 million Americans work in clean energy, which is twice the number of Americans employed in fossil fuel generation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. These solar and wind energy jobs are well-paying, providing opportunities that boost local economies. The solar and wind energy industries alone employ nearly half a million people and are growing at a rate of about 20 percent annually.

The country’s fastest-growing job is wind turbine technician. The number of such jobs is expected to double during the next decade. Thirty-five percent of the students at a Colorado turbine technical school are veterans, along with workers from the oil and gas industry who are looking for a transition. AeroTorque plant in Sharon City, Ohio, used to make underground mining equipment for coal, and now, it manufactures wind turbine parts.

The renewable energy jobs rush is not just in blue or purple states like Colorado. There is now more wind and solar energy in states such as Iowa, Oklahoma, Nevada and Texas, which produces the most wind power of any state.

The growth in wind is market-driven: General Motors will purchase wind power to supply 100 percent of the electricity in Dallas; Facebook is building new data centers in Iowa because of its wind resource and 100 Fortune 500 companies have committed to obtaining all their power from renewable energy.

Twenty-nine states have renewable energy portfolio standards on the books, which require these states to obtain a certain percentage of their electricity from clean energy sources. Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper recently issued an executive order to reduce carbon emissions in the electricity sector by 35 percent by 2030. Actions like this impact people all along the supply chain. That includes employees who manufacture ball bearings for wind turbines, tech entrepreneurs who build energy-saving apps, carpenters who construct pallets for solar panels, truck drivers who haul materials and salespeople who market solar energy.

When one reviews the economic and job trends of our nation, it is obvious that our local energy economy and renewable energy job future are closely tied to this trend. The future energy decisions made by our community and elected officials are in our hands. We need to take charge of our energy future and pursue a course that will ensure jobs, energy independence and a stable and resilient economy and community.

Let your local elected officials (county commissioners and city council members) know where the futures lies.

Following are a few energy job numbers.

  • 1 to 3 million Americans work in the clean energy industry.
  • About 470,000 Americans work in solar and wind industries.
  • 1.2 million Americans are employed in fossil fuel extraction and electricity generation.
  • 160,000 Americans are employed in the coal industry.

John Spezia

Steamboat Springs

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