A 50% Renewables Portfolio Standard will be good for jobs

Carol Zabin

California policymakers will soon vote on SB 350, a comprehensive climate bill that builds on our landmark Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) and ramps up our transition to a clean energy economy. Opponents are once again predicting that climate policy will weaken our economy and kill jobs, even though AB 32 has not hurt our economy and has created jobs. We recently published a policy brief on the job impacts of one key component of climate policy: the Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS). A major part of SB 350 is the expansion of our Renewables Portfolio Standard, which currently requires that 33% of electricity sales be from renewable sources by 2020—a target that we are on track to meet. If SB 350 passes, it will increase the RPS to 50% by 2030. The RPS is good for reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and good for jobs.

The main findings of our study are:

  • Between 2003-2014, about 52,000 direct jobs were created due to the construction of renewable energy facilities, measured in person job years (one full-time job for one person for one year). When we include the jobs created by the supply chain and ripple effects (the job multipliers), about 130,000 total job years were created.
  • For the period 2015-2030, we estimate that increasing California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard to 50% by 2030 would create about an additional 354,000 to 429,000 direct jobs from the construction of new renewable generation. Including the job multipliers, we forecast a total of 879,000 to 1,067,000 job years by 2030.
  • We estimate that for every megawatt produced out-of-state instead of in-state, on average 11.5 direct jobs and 28.7 total jobs would be lost (unless exported generation makes up for this loss).

A county-level analysis that we conducted showed that the RPS created over 13,000 direct construction-related jobs (almost 35,000 jobs in total) in Kern County since 2011 and over 3,300 (almost 8,000 total) in the Kings-Tulare-Fresno region. The job benefits of the RPS are distributed in the same counties tackling some of the highest rates of unemployment in the state.

It’s important to put the green jobs debate in perspective. Instead of worrying about the exact number of jobs, we should focus on making sure that workers continue to benefit from climate policy. This means ensuring that:

  • The jobs in the new energy economy are good career-track jobs, not the low-wage jobs that have become so prevalent in our economy.
  • There are good training and hiring pipelines into those jobs for folks who have had limited opportunities.
  • Workers with good jobs in the old energy economy, where jobs may be eliminated or restructured, are protected.

There are specific and affordable ways to address these three jobs issues while achieving our climate goals. We have good track record of this from the RPS so far. For the future, let’s focus on these key jobs issues rather than continuing to play “gotcha” with green jobs numbers.