When It Comes to Job Creation, Renewable Energy Outshines Fossil Fuels

December 19, 2016

Shifting from a brown to a green economy could reduce the unemployment rate and create jobs throughout the country, says PERI's Heidi Garrett-Peltier

Shifting from a brown to a green economy could reduce the unemployment rate and create jobs throughout the country, says PERI's Heidi Garrett-Peltier


Story Transcript

KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown. So, climate change and catastrophic impact on the sustainability of the economy is a topic which we frequently cover here on The Real News. It was among the topics that influenced the recent elections here in the United States and many conservative groups argue that investments in clean and renewable will lead to a loss of jobs in the fossil fuel sector. So, what will be the balance when shifting to clean and renewable energy?

Well, to try to answer this very question, Heidi Garrett-Peltier’s recently-published paper titled Green versus Brown, Comparing the Employment Impacts of Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy and Fossil Fuels, Using an Input-Output Model. She offers a methodology for measuring the impact of this kind of investment on employment. And Heidi Garrett-Peltier is joining us today from Amherst, Massachusetts. She is an Assistant Research Professor in the Political Economy Research Institute, also known as PERI at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. She researches the impact of public and private investments on employment, especially investments in the low carbon economy. She has authored and contributed to many PERI studies and she is the author of the book, “Creating a Clean Energy Economy”. And we want to thank you for being here, Heidi. We appreciate it.

HEIDI GARRETT-PELTIER: Thanks very much for having me.

KIM BROWN: So, Heidi, why is research on the trade-off between green jobs and jobs in the fossil fuel sector important?

HEIDI GARRETT-PELTIER: Well, I think there are a number of reasons it’s important, but you know there’s been this long-standing notion that there’s some kind of a trade-off between the environment and the economy. And so, we wanted to dig into this question and see if we do something for the sake of the sustainability of the planet, could that also be good for the economy? And so, we needed to create a methodology to study the job creation effects of investing in renewable energy and investing in energy efficiency. And what would be the job losses when we shift out of fossil fuels?

KIM BROWN: So, Heidi the paper uses the term “synthetic industries”. Can you explain that term to us?

HEIDI GARRETT-PELTIER: Sure. Well, so the national accounts that are used in the US and in most other countries track a number of different industries. In the US they’re up to about 500 different industries that are in the national account. So, you can see how much out-put, how much employment, how much value-added is in every single one of those industries. But the problem is that the national accounts don’t identify industries like the wind industry, the solar industry, energy efficiency installations, and things that we need to study from a policy perspective and then from an environmentalist’s perspective. But since those aren’t captured in the national accounts, we needed to figure out a way to use the information that’s already in there and to recreate what we’re calling a “synthetic industry” to represent what wind is. Because all of the components that go into wind, let’s say the steel and the hardware and the trucking, and all of the services and all of the goods that go into the wind industry are captured somewhere in the national accounts. So, it’s really a method to try to figure out where all of those components are and to create something that we can call the wind industry, to study it.

KIM BROWN: So, share with us the findings of your paper. How many jobs are created per, let’s say, $1 million spent in the fossil fuel energy sector? And how many in the green sector?

HEIDI GARRETT-PELTIER: Roughly, it’s about two and a half jobs created for each million spent on fossil fuels and about seven and a half in renewable energy. A little bit higher in energy efficiency, a little bit lower in renewable energy. But over seven jobs in clean energy versus two and a half jobs in fossil fuels. So, shifting and we’re not necessarily going to shift dollar for dollar, from fossil fuels to clean energy, but if we think about the net effect of reducing fossil fuel spending and increasing clean energy spending, we’ll create five jobs for every million dollars shift from brown energy to green energy.

KIM BROWN: So, do you think that these findings will convince policy-makers to shift public investment into the green sector in order to reduce unemployment?

HEIDI GARRETT-PELTIER: I certainly hope so. You know, when policy-makers make policy they, in general, like to have some evidence, some data to back their decision-making, so this is an opportunity to provide that data to provide the numbers for job creation. And to show that if we invested a significant but affordable amount, let’s say $100 billion or $200 billion, there could be a significant impact in reducing the unemployment rate and in creating jobs throughout the country.

KIM BROWN: And what about the private sector? Aren’t the findings that the green sector requires more jobs, actually means that clean energy is more expensive?

HEIDI GARRETT-PELTIER: Well, it’s interesting, the costs of clean energy have been coming down dramatically. And most clean energy sources now are compatible, are comparable with natural gas and coal and oil, in terms of energy sources. And so, in terms of the effect on the consumer, and what we would spend on our electricity bills, there’s not very much difference. And the other thing to remember is that the more we invest in efficiency, the less energy we need to use. So, even if it were slightly more expensive to go to renewables, we’re going to be using less energy, if we also invest in efficiency. So our total energy bill can go down.

KIM BROWN: Well, as the clean energy costs come down and, I mean, in some areas they remain slightly higher than the traditional fossil fuel energy uses. So, are you concerned that your study discourages private investments in clean energy?

HEIDI GARRETT-PELTIER: Not at all, actually, because the study shows the job creation effects from spending on clean energy, whether that comes from private businesses or government funding. So, I think the paper makes the case for public support of clean energy because of the job creation effect and because of the environmental effect. That those are two reasons that public officials should want to support clean energy. But in terms of just the numbers and just the data, whether the million dollars is coming from the government or from a private business or from an individual, the job creation effects are the same.

KIM BROWN: Indeed. Well, we’ve been joined today with Dr. Heidi Garrett-Peltier. She has published a paper. You should check it out. It is going to be available right underneath this interview. The paper is titled Green versus Brown, Comparing the Employment Impacts of Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy and Fossil Fuels, using an In-put, Out-put Model. It is fascinating stuff and we appreciate you joining us today, Heidi. Thank you so much.

HEIDI GARRETT-PELTIER: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.