California’s Secret to Green Jobs and a Thriving Clean Economy? It’s Policy
By Jorge Madrid California has a thriving clean economy. In fact, the Golden State boasted more green jobs in clean energy and transportation last year than the other top 4 states combined, according to a new report by Environmental Entrepreneurs. Here are some more highlights: Innovation – The state is a hub for clean energy innovation. Clean technology patents grew by 26 percent in the past 2 years, outpacing the country and the rest of the world. It is the “undisputed leader in solar technology patents” according to Next10.org, with totals greater than the cumulative solar patents of the next eight highest states. Energy Generation – Total renewable energy generation has grown 28 percent between 2007 and 2011 and wind energy has doubled during this same period. Earlier this month, the state broke its own record for solar power – over 15,394 megawatt-hours of power to the grid, enough for every Californian to keep a 100-watt bulb lit for four hours. Not to be outdone, the state also surpassed 4-gigawatts of wind power – similar to what California's two nuclear plants can churn out at full power, or enough to momentarily supply over 2.5 million homes. Jobs – Green jobs are growing four times faster than the rate of all other jobs nationwide, with the majority happening in California according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. EDF’s analysis of California’s clean economy finds that jobs in core sectors like energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean transportation, and advanced storage and materials have not only remained resilient during the worst of the Great Recession (2008-2010), they outpaced all other job growth and grew 109 percent from 1995 to 2010. Green jobs are also good jobs in California. They are diverse, across a wide range of education-level and skills, and almost half of all jobs in the clean economy don’t require a college degree according to the Brookings Institution. On average, green jobs offer a higher median wage and career advancement opportunities. An analysis by Philip Romero, the former Dean of CSU Los Angeles College of Business and Economics finds that “workers command wages with a 50-to-100 percent premium over the average job,” and estimates that the overall clean economy will grow “by at least 60-to-100 percent” by the late 2030’s. Something exciting is happening in California, and at this point you may be wondering what our secret is? It’s policy. California boasts a legacy of innovation stemming from the state’s leadership in environmental policy – it happens here first and it transforms markets. It is evidenced in everything from improved tailpipe emission standards and higher performing gas mileage in cars, greater efficiency in household appliances, and greener building practices that has transformed the sector and created hundreds of billions of dollars in economic value. All these innovations started with policy. I believe good stuff can happen when you set clear policies that signal markets and influence behaviors. There is a reason why 24 percent of hybrid and 32 percent of electric vehicles in the US are registered in California: good policy that led to better cars and consumers who could see the improvement to their bottom line at the gas pump. California leads in renewable energy, efficiency, and clean transportation in strong part because of strong policies like AB 32 which puts a price on carbon and sets a statewide Renewable Portfolio Standard, providing a clear market signal for greater investment in clean technology. And by the way, someone local has to install all those solar panels and wind turbines, weatherize all those homes, as well as maintain and operate all those buses and rail cars – good jobs in the clean economy follow smart policy. It turns out that California’s “secret” to growing green jobs and a thriving clean economy is not so secret at all…it’s good policy. This article originally appeared on the Environmental Defense Fund. Jorge Madrid is a policy fellow with the Environmental Defense Fund, based in San Francisco, CA. He is on the Board of Directors for Voces Verdes, the national independent, non-partisan voice of Latino leaders for the environment.