Growing New Jobs in a Greener World


People across the country are struggling to find and keep jobs because of what many have deemed the worst economy since the Great Depression. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the statewide unemployment rate for October in Oregon was 11.2 percent. And while that's a slight improvement over September, more than 218,000 Oregonians were still unemployed in October -- roughly 75,000 more than a year ago.

But even in the midst of this recession, research indicates that clean-energy jobs are poised for significant growth. In fact, according to a recent study by The Pew Charitable Trusts, employment opportunities in Oregon's clean-energy economy increased at a rate of 50.7 percent, while total jobs grew by only 7.5 percent overall between 1998 and 2007.

Pew's report -- the first-ever hard count of the actual companies and venture capital investments that supply environmentally friendly jobs and services -- found that the clean-energy economy is emerging as a vital component of America's new financial landscape. Moreover, with more than 19,300 positions, Oregon has more employment opportunities in its clean-energy sector, as a share of its overall economy, than any other state.

Clean-economy jobs are well-paying positions for people of all skill levels and educational backgrounds -- construction workers, marketing consultants, engineers and many others --with annual incomes ranging from $21,000 to $111,000. And Oregon is just getting started.

This sector's rapid growth has caught the attention of investors around the country. In 2008 alone, financiers directed $5.9 billion into U.S. businesses in the clean-energy economy. In fact, clean technology venture capital investment in Oregon alone totaled $70 million over the past three years.

Further, many leaders in both Salem and Washington, D.C., recognize the potential and are working to create a business climate for new initiatives to thrive. In 2007, the state passed a renewable portfolio standard that will require the largest utilities in Oregon to provide 25 percent of their retail sales of electricity from renewable sources of energy by 2025. This builds upon the state's energy loan program, which has been helping promote energy conservation and renewable energy resource development since the early 1980s.

On the federal level, the Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative was recently awarded $20 million to implement a smart grid system that will help integrate 15 electric cooperatives across four states. Yet, though the 2009 federal stimulus act allocated nearly $85 billion in direct spending and tax incentives for U.S. energy and transportation-related programs -- including other projects across Oregon -- more must be done.

According to a report by the China Greentech Initiative, the Chinese government has allocated 37 percent of its economic stimulus plan to the development of green technologies and renewable energy. Already the leading solar manufacturer in the world, China also aims to overtake Japan in production of hybrid vehicles by 2011. Unless U.S. leaders act now, America may find itself left behind.

At the state level, additional incentives and policies would be an important step. And action must be taken on a national level, as well. Most notably, Congress and the Obama administration must work together to produce energy and global warming legislation that creates jobs, enhances energy independence and sustains our environment.

Investing in the clean-energy economy pays off. Promoting policies that will help provide people across Oregon with new, well-paying jobs and also help protect our planet is an investment that will provide dividends for all in the years ahead.