Jobs: Fossil Fuels versus Clean Energy

Laser Talk

Question:  Won’t making fossil fuels more expensive kill jobs?

Answer:  Cutting fossil fuel emissions actually puts more people to work, at comparable wages, than business as usual. [1] Fossil fuel employment has been shrinking for years, mainly because of mechanization, not regulation. For example, in 1980, producing 100 tons of coal per hour required 52 miners; by 2015 that number dropped to 16. Even though more coal was being mined, coal mining lost 58 percent of its jobs between 1980 and 2015. [2]

In 2018, there were 2.4 million jobs in clean energy and energy efficiency, compared to half that many in fossil energy. [3] Even without a price on carbon, installers and service technicians for solar and wind are forecast to grow 11 to 13 times faster than the U.S. average. [4,5] Also, the vast majority of energy sector jobs, such as electricians, power plant operators, riggers, etc., are needed for both fossil and non-fossil energy. [6]

Our country will still need energy, whether it comes from low- or zero-carbon sources or from the old polluting sources of the past. Today, the energy technologies of the future create more well-paying jobs per energy dollar spent, and will continue to do so even as the new technologies mature. [7] Not only is renewable electricity already cost-competitive with fossil-generated power in many locations, [8,9] it provides 50 percent more jobs, at similar pay, for the same amount of energy. [10,11]

And it’s not just renewable energy jobs! A 2017 study of a carbon tax in British Columbia that returns most revenue to taxpayers [12] showed that, over a six-year period, job gains in labor-intensive sectors like health care outweighed job losses in energy-intensive sectors like air travel. There were more employment opportunities with the carbon tax than without it.

  1. “Occupational Employment Statistics.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2018). Fossil energy jobs averaged $25/h; wind and solar jobs averaged $24/h; nuclear plant jobs averaged $46/h; jobs that apply to all forms of energy averaged $28/h.
  2. Saha, D. and S. Liu. “Increased automation guarantees a bleak outlook for Trump’s promises to coal miners.” (25 Jan 2017).
  3. “The 2019 U.S. Energy & Employment Report.” Energy Futures Initiative and National Association of State Energy Officials (2019).
  4. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Solar Voltaic Installers.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (19 Sep 2019).
  5. “Occupational Outlook Handbook: Wind Turbine Technicians.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (19 Sep 2019).
  6. See Reference 1. Data show that 85 percent of energy sector jobs (electricians, power plant operators, riggers, etc.) would remain essential throughout a decarbonization scenario.
  7. Kats, G. “How many jobs does clean energy create?” GreenBiz (5 Dec 2016).
  8. “Levelized Cost and Levelized Avoided Cost of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2018.” U.S. Energy Information Administration (Mar 2018).
  9. “Levelized Cost of Energy and Levelized Cost of Storage 2018.” Lazard Insights (8 Nov 2018).
  10. Wei, M., S. Patadia, and D.M. Kammen. “Putting renewables and energy efficiency to work: How many jobs can the clean energy industry generate in the US?” Energy Policy 38, 919-931 (2010).
  11. See Reference 1.
  12. Yamazaki, Akio. “Jobs and Climate Policy: Evidence from British Columbia’s Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax.” Environ. Econ. and Manag., 83(C), 197-216 (May 2017).

This page was last updated on 04/09/20 at 14:05 CDT.

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