Biden claims green-job surge in State of the Union — is his boast justified?

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U.S. efforts to fight climate change aren’t limited to the Inflation Reduction Act’s rebates for swapping to energy-efficient electric appliances or putting electric vehicles in more American garages, President Joe Biden said Tuesday night. It’s about growing “green” jobs that will help push the nation toward net-zero greenhouse-gas emissions in coming decades, he said.

But is there truth in Biden’s State of the Union claim on “green” jobs, positions that range from HVAC installers to electrical engineers, solar-panel installers, and sustainable-finance experts?

“The Inflation Reduction Act is the most significant investment ever to tackle the climate crisis [by] lowering utility bills, creating American jobs and leading the world to a clean energy future,” Biden said, referencing the sweeping spending bill he signed into law last summer.

Read the full text of Biden’s SOTU.

He also said the country will require “new electric grids able to weather the next major storm,” an upgrade that itself will take a dedicated workforce to make a strained, dated system able to withstand the modern demands from EVs and more electricity use.

“We’re building 500,000 electric-vehicle charging stations installed across the country by tens of thousands of IBEW [union] workers,” he said, repeating a figure previously announced.

And, Biden said Tuesday, part of making sure that environmental upgrades are justly delivered to underserved communities means promoting green job growth in the often mixed-zoned communities where pollution from nearby industry and heavily trafficked highways spew disproportionate amounts of pollution to the surrounding homes.

House Republicans weren’t buying the president’s jobs spin when it comes to greening the economy. In a statement, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Cathy Rodgers, a Republican from Washington, called Biden’s plans a radical “rush-to-green” agenda that is shutting down American energy and making the country more reliant on China.

She said her party will continue to monitor how the IRA is spent, adding the law “embraces massive government subsidies and regulations to place unreliable, weather dependent renewables above all other energy sources.” Republicans instead want to reduce the regulatory, permitting and licensing barriers that they say hamper the deployment of American energy and infrastructure, like hydropower, advanced nuclear and natural-gas

export terminals and pipelines. 

Lawmakers from traditional-energy states tend to grouse about high-paying jobs in the oil and gas industry being lost to solar and wind power. But research from 2022 shows that most alternative-energy jobs, which have tripled nationwide in just two decades, are concentrated in the states where the fossil-fuel sector long employed residents and juiced local economies.

What’s more, wind and solar jobs tend to offer higher pay than many industries, and the jobs — like those drilling and processing oil and gas, or maintaining rigs — pay competitively without necessarily requiring a college degree. Green jobs tend to be created in occupations that pay about 21% more than the average U.S. salary, say researchers E. Mark Curtis, an economics professor at Wake Forest University, and Ioana Marinescu, who teaches at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice, in a report shared by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Read: Biden on tech: ‘Pass bipartisan legislation to strengthen antitrust enforcement’

By one measure, the estimated likely total pay in the renewable-energy sector is $131,337 per year in the U.S., with an average salary of $96,438 per year, according to Glassdoor. These numbers represent the median, which is the midpoint of the ranges from Glassdoor’s “total pay” model. Additional pay could include cash bonuses, commissions, tips and profit sharing.

Related: ‘Clean energy’ hiring in solar, wind and EVs expands in red and blue states. Enter your ZIP code to see where the jobs are.

Separately, the non-profit environmental advocacy group Climate Power just released an analysis estimating that companies have announced more than 100,000 clean-energy jobs since the IRA was signed in August.

The group monitored press coverage and company announcements to tally private-sector jobs across a range of sectors that aim to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. That includes EV and battery manufacturing, wind and solar energy, and home-energy efficiency.

ReadDon’t rule out natural gas in the clean-energy transition, trade group says

Nonprofit green-economy tracker E2 began following nationwide employment across the entire clean-energy sector in 2015. The E2 site allows viewers to search by Zip code to gauge how strong clean-energy jobs are in their area.

The latest E2 report showed that growth spanned every clean-energy subsector in 2022 when compared to a year earlier. Those subsectors include renewable energy, such as wind, solar

  and geothermal, to energy efficiency, electric

 and hybrid vehicles

parts and manufacturing, as well as power-grid modernization 

 Conversely, traditional fossil-fuel jobs from the coal, oil and natural gas sectors fell 4%, E2 said, using Department of Energy jobs data in its analysis.

Additional data indicates that demand and building capacity for solar alone will generate many of the jobs the president claims are on their way, if not already created.

Figures from the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA) predict that solar-powered generation will account for more than half of the 54.5 gigawatts (GW) of new utility-scale electric generating capacity expected this year across the nation, with solar power accounting for 54% of 2023 additions, followed by battery storage at 17%.

Much of the new solar capacity will be in Texas, where 7.7 GW is expected to come online, followed by California with 4.2 GW, the EIA said, with the two states together accounting for 41% of planned new solar capacity.

Outside of these dominant states, some evidence points to adoption in the center of the country, including some states that did not vote for Biden.

According to figures from Wood Mackenzie and the Solar Energy Industries Association, Ohio and Indiana are on the cusp of solar-farm growth so large that their installations expected between now and 2027 — enough to power about 12 million homes — will position them as the third- and fifth-largest states with renewable energy. California and Texas rank first and second, with Nevada fourth.

Increased price competition between renewables and traditional energy sources also help make Biden’s case.

With IRA-backed incentives, utility-scale solar in Ohio costs less than half of an efficient natural gas-fired plant, said Amar Vasdev, an analyst at Bloomberg’s BNEF research arm, as reported in Callaway’s Climate Insights. In Indiana, solar is more than a third cheaper.

Biden went on to say in his address that infrastructure spending should be geared toward road and water systems rebuilt “to withstand the next big flood,” another flick at workforce demand.

But as his political opposition pushed back from the chamber, he added, off script, that despite his routine call for more renewable energy he expects oil

and gas

to remain a feature of the U.S. economy for at least another decade.

“We’re still going to need oil and gas for awhile… but there’s so much more to do. We’re going to finish the job,” Biden said.

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