Local News

Shumlin pokes critics while touting growth of green energy jobs

By Mike Polhamus, VTDigger.org

The governor struck a pugnacious tone Wednesday, May 18, while announcing robust job growth in Vermont’s renewable energy sector over the past year.

The sector exceeded growth projections in 2015 by 3 percent, meaning an additional 1,400 employees over the past year, for a total of 17,700 renewable energy-related jobs in the state, said Gov. Peter Shumlin during a news conference at the Vermont Energy Investment Corp. headquarters. That amounts to about 6 percent of the state’s workforce, he said, the greatest percentage of any state.

Shumlin pulled these numbers from a report prepared by BW Research Partnership for the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund, which is administered by the Department of Public Service.

Reporting the figures to a room full of reporters and industry employees, Shumlin took several jabs at critics of renewable energy, who have called in the past for a moratorium on new wind power facilities and for greater local involvement in the siting of solar projects.

“At a time when we’re all a little cynical about politics, mostly because all the press will do is often report the negative, maybe we should take a second to celebrate the positive,” Shumlin said. “We’re doing it. If more states were doing what Vermont’s doing, we’d have a better country and a more prosperous country, and we’d have lower [electricity] rates. . . . A lot of critics said, ‘If you do that, if you close down the nuker, the lights are going to go out, rates are going to go up, jobs are going to be killed,” he said, referring to a campaign promise he made to close the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Its owner ceased power production there at the end of 2014, citing economics.

“But just the opposite has happened: Jobs have been created—17,000 of them. It’s now 6 percent of our workforce,” Shumlin said. “When politicians say, ‘We’re going too fast, I don’t like so many solar panels, I don’t like what they look like,’ I say, ‘Whose job are you proposing to eliminate when you propose a moratorium?’”

About 55 percent of these jobs are in firms with one to five employees, the report says. About 3 percent of these jobs are in firms with more than 100 employees. About 40 percent of employers counted in the survey reported that all their revenue derived from work related to clean energy. The greatest part of the “clean energy economy” that the report addresses is employment related to energy efficiency, accounting for about 49 percent of those jobs. Energy efficiency constitutes one of three categories of employment that make up the total number of renewable energy-related jobs the report considers. One of the other sectors is “renewable energy,” which includes solar, wind, geothermal and similar energy-production methods and employs around 39 percent of all “clean energy” workers in the state.

The third sector deals in transportation, primarily in support of hybrid, electrical and renewable-fuel technologies; it has about 5 percent of the state’s clean-energy workers. Other jobs make up 7 percent of the total clean-energy workforce.

The 17,700-employee figure the report touts includes all Vermont employees who “spend at least some amount of time supporting the portion of a firm’s business activities that is related to clean energy . . . includ[ing] all workers that spend any amount of time conducting clean-energy activities.”

In both the energy efficiency and renewable generation sectors of the clean-energy portion of the economy, about 30 percent of employees counted in the survey spend less than half their workday on activities related to energy efficiency or renewable energy generation, the report states.

What the report describes as “green energy jobs” grew in Vermont by 20 percent since 2013, from 14,788 to 17,715, the report estimates. Over the same period, jobs across the state grew by 2 percent, according to the report.

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