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Renewable Energy Jobs and the Future

The number of clean-energy jobs in the U.S. would more than double by 2025 if the nation adopts a plan to get 25 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources, says a report backed by energy firms.

Nationwide, 274,000 jobs would be created in the wind, solar, hydropower, biomass and waste-to-energy industries by 2025 if a 25 percent standard is adopted, says research firm Navigant Consulting. Those sectors now support about 196,000 jobs.

Navigant did the study for the RES Alliance for Jobs, a consortium of renewable energy companies and others that recommends national renewable electricity targets of 12 percent in 2014 and 20 percent in 2020.

Unlike three dozen other countries, including China, the U.S. doesn't have a national standard to drive use of renewable energy, although it's being debated in Congress. President Obama has pushed for 25 percent renewables by 2025. Meanwhile, 30 states have renewable standards. Five have set goals.

But company executives say state standards are often unenforceable and lack the punch of a national standard that would more forcefully drive use of renewables. That would entice companies to put manufacturing and operations in the U.S. as opposed to other countries, they say.

"We're building this industry right now," says Don Furman, senior vice president of Iberdrola Renewables, a leading wind farm developer. "We're really in a footrace with China and Europe to secure these jobs long term. When you create demand, you really create jobs."

Losing jobs to China

Navigant's research, based in part on interviews with dozens of energy firms and suppliers, found that every state would see job growth with a 25 percent standard.

The biggest winners include states already strong in wind power generation or manufacturing, including Texas, Pennsylvania and Colorado. California, a leading solar state, would also be a big beneficiary.

The Southeast, meanwhile, would gain jobs in biomass, which includes turning wood and agricultural products into energy, Navigant says.

On the flip side, many states will lose clean-energy jobs if no national standard is passed, Navigant says. Texas, for one, could lose more than 2,500 jobs given its already big presence in wind and expiring tax credits for wind projects, Navigant says.

Without a strong national standard, Furman says, the U.S. wind industry could even lose jobs, especially to China. Last year, China became the No. 1 maker of wind turbine equipment. It's also the No. 1 maker of solar cells for solar panels.

While the federal government pumped $150 million in stimulus funds into renewable energy, China is moving faster, Obama told governors Wednesday, while calling for more ethanol production and technology to limit pollution from coal.

Southeast raises concerns

A national electricity standard has faced opposition from Southeastern lawmakers, who fear that it'll benefit states with big wind and good sun. Southeastern states are largely dependent on coal and nuclear power.

"We're not opposed to renewables, but we're of the opinion that states should come up with their own plans," says David Wright, past president and current commissioner of the Southeastern Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. If the Southeast benefits from growth in biomass, he wonders if it'll lose jobs if coal plants close.

Renewable energy also remains more expensive than coal. Mandates that drive up its use could result in higher energy prices, which could result in lost jobs, says Max Schulz, analyst at the Manhattan Institute, a free-market think tank.

"There's no question that if you have a national standard, you'll see an increase in green jobs," Schulz says. "But you'll also have harmful effects."

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