Report: Pennsylvania Stands To Gain 243,000 Jobs A Year From Clean Energy Investment

Workers install solar panels on the roof of Global Links, a medical relief nonprofit, in Green Tree, Pa., on Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. JARED MURPHY / 90.5 WESA

By AN-LI HERRING
WESA-FM

Jan 28, 2021 – Although President Joe Biden’s actions on climate change have stirred anxieties about job loss in energy-producing states like Pennsylvania, a new report predicts that plans like Biden’s could create roughly a quarter-million jobs annually in the Commonwealth. And within hours after the report’s release, local officials announced a small but symbolic down payment on green energy investment.

The 243,000 clean-energy jobs that could be created each year over the next decade in Pennsylvania “are jobs across the board,” said Robert Pollin, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and one of the study’s authors.

“We’re looking at jobs for carpenters, machinists, environmental scientists, secretaries, accountants, truck drivers, roofers, agricultural labor,” Pollin said, referring to positions that would be required to achieve higher energy efficiency standards, develop new products and infrastructure, and restore land that’s been used for mining and drilling.

UMass Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute released the report Thursday, a day after Biden signed a round of executive orders that aim to supercharge the country’s efforts to curb carbon emissions.

Co-authored by Pollin, the report quantifies the potential impact on Pennsylvania jobs of a clean energy strategy developed by ReImagine Appalachia, a coalition of progressive policy and environmental groups. The coalition seeks to facilitate a “just transition” to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, whose economies have traditionally depended on extraction-based fossil fuel industries. ReImagine Appalachia’s blueprint strives to ensure those states can generate well-paying jobs during a decades-long shift to carbon-free energy.

With adequate funding over the next 10 years, the plan would fuel the creation of an average of 162,000 jobs annually in clean energy and 81,000 positions a year in public infrastructure, manufacturing, land restoration, and agriculture, according to Thursday’s study.

The study estimates that an average annual investment of $31 billion would be needed from both the public and private sectors. During the presidential campaign, Biden pledged to invest $2 trillion in such efforts, with the goal of eliminating carbon pollution from the power sector by 2035 and from the entire U.S. economy by 2050.

“The level of funding necessary [is] a lot. But it’s 3 percent of [the] GDP of the state … So it’s affordable,” Pollin said. And he noted that the employment gains his report predicts would amount to about 4 percent of the state’s workforce.

“So if you’re looking at an economy which has a 7 percent unemployment rate [similar to Pennsylvania], these programs lower the unemployment rate to 3 percent – that’s how dramatic it would be,” Pollin said.

Powering up

Allegheny County took a modest step toward that goal on Thursday, when County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that, starting as early as mid-2023, all county-owned facilities will draw energy from a low-impact hydropower plant located on the Ohio River.

Fitzgerald called the move a “long-term investment in how we light and power our facilities using our natural resources without using fossil fuels.” He said it comes during a “landmark week,” during which the county met federal air quality standards for the first time ever.

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