In the midst of an unprecedented amount of bad news surrounding the economy, the robust growth in employment in the wind and solar energy sectors has been receiving a lot of attention. Wind industry jobs have increased 70% over the past year, totaling 85,000 in 2008. These 85,000 jobs in the wind industry include some 13,000 manufacturing jobs, many of which are being filled by workers who lost jobs in other manufacturing industries, like the steel industry. Similarly, the solar industry employs more than 80,000 workers in the U.S.
CNNMoney.com ran an article earlier this week noting that the wind industry now outstrips the coal mining industry in number of workers. The article, “Wind Jobs Outstrips Coal,” noted that the coal mining and extraction industry employs about 81,000 workers. According to a 2007 U.S. Department of Energy report cited in the article, these numbers have been steady in recent years, but are down nearly 50% since 1986. Estimates for the total direct employment in the U.S. coal industry range from 136,000 to 174,000 workers, and includes those who mine coal, haul it by rail, barge and truck, and who operate and maintain coal-fired power plants. Thus, the solar and wind energy sectors have quickly caught up the coal industry in terms of overall employment and will soon surpass the coal industry in total employment.
These facts demonstrate the potential of renewable energy to lead the country’s economic recovery when you consider that renewable energy currently supplies a tiny portion of the nation’s electricity supply—about 3 percent—compared to coal, which supplies about 50 percent of our electricity.