Compared with fossil fuel technologies, which are typically mechanized and capital intensive, the renewable energy industry is more labor-intensive. This means that, on average, more jobs are created for each unit of electricity generated from renewable sources than from fossil fuels.
Renewable energy already supports thousands of jobs in the United States. For example, in 2011, the wind energy industry directly employed 75,000 full-time-equivalent employees in a variety of capacities, including manufacturing, project development, construction and turbine installation, operations and maintenance, transportation and logistics, and financial, legal, and consulting services . More than 500 factories in the United States manufacture parts for wind turbines, and the amount of domestically manufactured equipment used in wind turbines has grown dramatically in recent years: from 35 percent in 2006 to 70 percent in 2011 .
Other renewable energy technologies employ even more workers. In 2011, the solar industry employed approximately 100,000 people on a part-time or full-time basis, including jobs in solar installation, manufacturing, and sales ; the hydroelectric power industry employed approximately 250,000 people in 2009 ; and in 2010 the geothermal industry employed 5,200 people .
Increasing renewable energy has the potential to create still more jobs. In 2009, the Union of Concerned Scientists conducted an analysis of the economic benefits of a 25 percent renewable energy standard by 2025; it found that such a policy would create more than three times as many jobs as producing an equivalent amount of electricity from fossil fuels—resulting in a benefit of 202,000 new jobs in 2025 .
In addition to the jobs directly created in the renewable energy industry, growth in renewable energy industry creates positive economic “ripple” effects. For example, industries in the renewable energy supply chain will benefit, and unrelated local businesses will benefit from increased household and business incomes .
In addition to creating new jobs, increasing our use of renewable energy offers other important economic development benefits. Local governments collect property and income taxes and other payments from renewable energy project owners. These revenues can help support vital public services, especially in rural communities where projects are often located. Owners of the land on which wind projects are built also often receive lease payments ranging from $3,000 to $6,000 per megawatt of installed capacity, as well as payments for power line easements and road rights-of-way. Or they may earn royalties based on the project’s annual revenues. Similarly, farmers and rural landowners can generate new sources of supplemental income by producing feedstocks for biomass power facilities.
UCS analysis found that a 25 by 2025 national renewable electricity standard would stimulate $263.4 billion in new capital investment for renewable energy technologies, $13.5 billion in new landowner income biomass production and/or wind land lease payments, and $11.5 billion in new property tax revenue for local communities .
Renewable energy projects therefore keep money circulating within the local economy, and in most states renewable electricity production would reduce the need to spend money on importing coal and natural gas from other places. Thirty-eight states were net importers of coal in 2008—from other states and, increasingly, other countries: 16 states spent a total of more than $1.8 billion on coal from as far away as Colombia, Venezuela, and Indonesia, and 11 states spent more than $1 billion each on net coal imports .