Monday, June 05, 2017


In 1865, American author and editor Horace Greeley cribbed an earlier journalist's phrase and famously wrote, "Go West, young man . . . go West and grow up with the country."

The same advice could certainly be given today with respect not to the long-closed American Frontier, but to the worldwide, opportunity-filled frontier of renewable energy--energy from the wind, the sun, the tides and other natural, non-polluting sources.

Workers prepare to hoist the blades of a giant wind turbine
Credit: National Wind Technology Center/

In the first three months of 2017, a new wind turbine was commissioned every 2.4 hours somewhere in the US. Not surprisingly, that kind of growth requires lots of workers. The US wind industry employed 51,000 people in 2013 and doubled to 102,000 just three years later. Writing in Inside Climate News, journalist Paul Horn notes that just the growth in wind-industry employment in those three years equals the total employment in the US coal industry.

Solar energy is another area enjoying explosive employment growth--17 times the national employment growth rate, according to the same source. Solar energy now employs more than 260,000 people in the US, up 82 percent over the past three years.

According to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, the US renewable energy sector as a whole employed nearly 3.4 million workers at the end of 2016. That's more than all the jobs in the entire fossil-fuel sector, and is grew an astonishing 18 percent between 2015 and 2016.

And all those jobs are producing remarkable results. The US Department of Energy reports that just under 20% of US electricity came from renewables in 2016, pretty much wiping out all predictions.

To borrow a term popularized by Newt Gingrich, it's pathetic to compare renewable energy to the moribund coal industry that President Trump promises to resuscitate. In the US, coal has shed 60,000 jobs over the last five years. (However, and kudos to Trump, it will gain 70 to 100 jobs when the Acosta Coal Mine, in Pennsylvania, opens on June 8. So revise that to minus 59,900.

Business Insider points out that the growth in clean energy in the US is part of a worldwide explosion in renewable energy, a tidal wave of change that now seems inevitable now that the cost of clean renewable energy has fallen below that of polluting, climate-threatening fossil fuels. Even with President Trump and EPA head Pruitt trying to return the US to the carboniferous era, the economics will win out.

Business Insider quotes Liz Delaney, Program Director at EDF Climate Corps, who concludes:

"Our findings would lead us to believe that the right place to invest dollars are in renewable energy rather than fossil fuels," Delaney says. "These jobs are widely geographically distributed, they're high paying, they apply to both manufacturing and professional workers, and there are a lot of them."


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