Jobs: Fossil Fuels versus Renewables

Laser Talk

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

Answer:  Renewable energy actually creates more jobs than an equivalent amount of fossil energy. Fossil fuel jobs have shrunk mainly because of mechanization, not regulation. For example, in 1980, producing a ton 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. [1]

In 2016, there were over three million jobs in non-fossil energy and energy efficiency, compared to only about one million in fossil energy. [2] Even without a price on carbon, installers and service technicians for solar and wind are in such demand that those jobs are growing 13 to 15 times faster than the U.S. average. [3]

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 jobs per energy dollar spent than those of the past, and will likely continue to do so even as the new technologies mature. [4] Not only is wind power already cost-competitive with electricity from fossil fuels, [5,6] it creates 50 percent more jobs for the same amount of energy. [7]

And it’s not just renewable energy jobs! The REMI economic study we commissioned in 2014 [8] found that with a carbon fee and dividend policy, job losses in mining and drilling would be outweighed by job gains in almost every other category, including manufacturing, education, construction, finance, retail trades, and even health care.

Related: The REMI Study.

  1. Saha, D. and S. Liu. “Increased automation guarantees a bleak outlook for Trump’s promises to coal miners.” (25 Jan 2017).
  2. U.S. Department of Energy. “U.S. Energy and Employment Report.” (Jan 2017).
  3. “Where clean energy jobs are growing the fastest.” CBS News Money Watch (27 Oct 2017).
  4. Kats, G. “How many jobs does clean energy create?” GreenBiz (5 Dec 2016).
  5. “Levelized Cost and Levelized Avoided Cost of New Generation Resources in the Annual Energy Outlook 2018.” U.S. Energy Information Administration (Mar 2018).
  6. “Levelized Cost of Energy and Levelized Cost of Storage 2018.” Lazard Insights (8 Nov 2018).
  7. 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).
  8. Nystrom, S. and P. Luckow. “The Economic, Climate, Fiscal, Power, and Demographic Impact of a National Fee-and-Dividend Carbon Tax.” Regional Economic Models, Inc. and Synapse, Inc. (9 June 2014).

This page was last updated on 02/10/19 at 11:11 CST.

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