Amid the recent bad economic news, there is a bright spot — the growing number of jobs related to alternative energy and energy efficiency. While these jobs aren’t a replacement for those lost in manufacturing, they point to an area where businesses and the state can expect to see a positive return, both economically and environmentally.
According to an analysis released last week by the Natural Resources Council of Maine, 2,500 businesses in Maine are involved in work to expand renewable energy resources in the state and to increase energy efficiency. Of the businesses surveyed, three-quarters said they would maintain or expand their work force in the next year. This is especially important as other industries have cut back on employment during the current recession. It also emphasizes, as Congress debates legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions, that so-called green jobs are a reality, not an environmentalist’s fantasy.
Job growth in the clean energy sector has far exceeded total job growth in the last decade both nationally and in Maine, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. In a July report, Pew said that Maine had 725 clean energy businesses in 2007, accounting for 6,000 jobs. The number of clean energy jobs in Maine grew by nearly 23 percent from 1998 to 2007, according to Pew. Overall job growth in Maine during that time was 3 percent.
NRCM found that 289 Maine businesses have participated in the construction of wind power projects in the state. They spent more than $50 million in the state. Because of the growth of wind power, Northern Maine Community College has created the state’s first wind power technology training program.
Jeff Cropley of Brewer worked for a railroad logistics company until he was laid off earlier this year. He enrolled in the NMCC program at the same time his daughter began her freshman year at Eastern Maine Community College. “Watching the news, I saw all of the wind turbines going up across Maine and figured this was a good industry to get involved in,” he said at a NRCM press conference last week. “It’s very exciting to know that … we will be the first to earn degrees in wind power here in Maine and that we will be prepared to enter the work force and make a difference.” Plus, he added, “Our work will help reduce greenhouse gases and we will be part of leading the effort to move Maine forward.”
Andy Doak graduated from Maine Maritime Academy with a degree in marine engineering technology and worked on offshore drilling ships. He now works for First Wind in Maine. “The wind industry will continue to grow, create Maine jobs and provide clean energy to our grid,” he said.
In other sectors, 230 businesses provide home energy audits and weatherization services, 427 are in the solar business and 1,300 businesses provide energy-efficient products and services as part of Efficiency Maine. More than 300 businesses provide energy consulting, engineering and architecture services and 46 work in the U.S. Department of Energy to construct and certify high-efficiency homes.
This is all evidence that far from a vain hope, clean energy jobs are real and their numbers are rapidly increasing.