Renewable energy jobs continue to grow nationally and in Wisconsin.
Wind energy is one of these promising fields. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that wind turbine service technicians will gain jobs faster than any other occupation at a rate of 108 percent between 2014 and 2024. Wind energy is not alone. The solar energy field has also grown remarkably. The U.S. Department of Energy reported that, since 2008, solar energy contributing to the grid has increased at least 20 fold.
Shiba Kar, assistant professor of natural resource planning and policy, and sustainable energy specialist, said that beyond electricity generation, many jobs are created by related fields such as in the manufacturing of renewable technologies and the development and installation of energy efficient products.
Energy efficiency is a field which as of 2017, employs 2.2 million people, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and is expecting the most growth this year in comparison to other energy related sectors.
To meet the growing need for sustainability professionals, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point offers a sustainable energy minor. Kar said the minor encourages students to examine energy sectors and policies at the state and national level. The minor is well-suited for natural resource majors who hope to become sustainability coordinators or project managers. However, Kar said it is also beneficial for students coming from various backgrounds, such as business majors who can use their knowledge to encourage more sustainable business practices in their future career.
Fortunately for these graduates, clean energy jobs are growing in Wisconsin. A report by the Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs found a nearly 7 percent growth in clean energy jobs in Wisconsin between 2015 and 2016. Despite these strides, the same report showed that clean energy jobs make up less than 1 percent of the total workforce in Wisconsin.
In 2016, just over 8 percent of Wisconsin’s net electricity generation came from renewable energy, as reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration, leaving the majority of electricity production to more traditional fuels like coal. Wisconsin lacks fossil fuel reserves, so non-renewable energy can send a large sum of money out of the state. The Wisconsin State energy office reported that in 2012, around $15 billion left the state to pay for petroleum, natural gas, coal and imported electricity.
Proponents of renewable energy argue that producing energy locally rather than importing fossil fuels makes economic sense. Jerome Segura, assistant professor of economics and Chief Economist at the Central Wisconsin Economic Research Bureau, said that keeping money in the local economy is a form of sustainable economic development, whether it be through buying local food, shopping at local businesses or using locally produced energy.
Segura said that it can be difficult for new industries such as renewable energies to establish themselves in the energy market. In part, this is because existing subsidies may favor long standing industries like oil and gas, who have established lobbyists vying for their interests.
Kar said Wisconsin currently has a renewable portfolio standard which requires that 10 percent of electricity is renewably sourced. Kar said that there are many other states with more aggressive standards.
Kar said, “I hope there will be more policy initiatives, that has to come from our policy makers and awareness of our citizens, general citizens, so that they understand that this is bringing more jobs and will help the local economy and the state will do a lot better.”