2017-12-02 / Viewpoints

‘Clean energy’ just makes sense


(Court Gould is executive director of Sustainable Pittsburgh.)

Here in Pennsylvania, energy production is a part of our history and an integral component of our economy. Some letter-writers to Endeavor News have contended that natural gas development is the energy source of the future.

But Pennsylvania’s energy future can be more varied and propulsive than one powered by fossil fuels alone. We must forge a clean-energy future powered by renewable energy to advance a healthy citizenry and prosperous economy. And we are making progress.

Natural gas is not the end game. Rather, natural gas must be positioned as a transition to a truly renewable-energy economic vision -- particularly as our world gets hotter, access to traditional sources of energy becomes more volatile, and natural resources become scarcer.

Already, renewable energy and energy-efficiency measures are surging to constitute a large and fast-growing segment of our state employee base. The recently released “Clean Jobs Pennsylvania 2017” report provides timely insight into the fast rise of employment in the clean-energy sector (principally wind, solar and hydropower) and in energy efficiency, clean vehicles and smart-grid technology (which makes our electricity system more flexible and renewables friendly).

The types of jobs include those in construction, manufacturing, professional services such as engineering, software development, marketing and many others.

Nearly 70,000 Pennsylvanians have clean-energy jobs, with an increase of 6 percent from last year and strong projected future growth. Total employment is double that of fossil fuels.

Clean energy is a job-creation powerhouse, and we can put even more Pennsylvanians to work in this sector. In fact, the nation’s fastest-growing occupation is wind-turbine technician, with an average salary of $52,000 per year and expected job growth of 108 percent by 2024.

Consider that renewables constitute only 5 percent of Pennsylvania energy sources, compared with the national average of 15 percent. Yet jobs across the clean-energy spectrum (including those such as building retrofit, high-efficiency HVAC installation and so on) grew by an astonishing 15 percent in Pennsylvania over the past two years.

U.S. utilities alone invested $7.5 billion in energy efficiency and demand-side management last year, up 17 percent over the previous five years. When you also consider the 60-percent growth in the global market for electric vehicles in 2016, it’s clear that the clean-energy economy is driving innovations in the transportation sector, too, providing job opportunities for programmers, engineers, production workers, installers and technicians.

These opportunities create sustainable livelihoods and better living in a more climate-stable, less-polluted world, not to mention additional tax revenue for infrastructure and public services.

Our economic prosperity in coming decades should not be staked on natural gas growth alone. Leading companies such as Apple, Google and Amazon have corporate clean-energy goals that Pennsylvania should position itself to meet.

We must create a healthier, job-rich economy based on renewable energy and energy efficiency.

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