Renewable energy jobs in the Midwest and Missouri grew in 2018, despite the sector shedding 4.5 percent of jobs nationally, a report by a Chicago think-tank found Tuesday.
Clean-tech think tank the Clean Energy Trust produced its fourth Clean Jobs Midwest report, which tracks the number of clean energy jobs in 12 Midwestern states. Nationwide, renewable energy jobs slipped by 1.5 percent, partly because of a 30-percent tariff on imported solar panels imposed last year. Renewable energy jobs grew by 2.7 percent across the Midwest and 3.5 percent in Missouri, the study's authors found.
"With job growth across renewable energy generation, energy efficiency and advanced transportation sectors, this report shows that Midwestern economies are benefiting from the clean energy industry," said Clean Energy Trust CEO Erik Birkerts Tuesday on a call with reporters.
Statewide, all clean energy sector jobs added 1,562 employees in 2018, according to the report. Clean tech industries added 28,000 jobs and grew by 4 percent across the 12 states. Nationwide, clean energy jobs grew by 3.6 percent.
Energy efficiency jobs comprised 74.9 percent of clean energy jobs in Missouri and employed 41,845 people last year. With a growth rate of 4.2 percent, energy efficiency jobs grew faster than any other type of clean energy job statewide. In 2019, energy efficiency jobs will grow by 7.7 percent, according to the report.
Clean energy jobs employed 1,443 people in Boone County last year, according to the report. Of Boone County employees in the clean energy sector, 1,201 worked in energy efficiency industries.
"The best kind of energy is energy you don't have to use," said James Owen, executive director of Renew Missouri, a Columbia-based group that advocates for clean energy. "Energy efficiency is a big place for jobs."
Tremaine Phillips, director of Green Umbrella in Cincinnati works with companies and organizations to make their building energy efficient. Phillips said energy efficient buildings play a critical role in helping communities hit renewable targets and create workforces built around green technologies.
"Our membership understands that in order to meet and exceed these energy reduction goals, there must be a healthy, vibrant and local clean energy workforce that can deploy these innovative solutions," Phillips said on the call.
Micaela Preskill with Environmental Entrepreneurs in Chicago said policies at the state and federal level matter to the clean energy workforce. Illinois leads the Midwest in renewable energy and renewable energy jobs after the state passed its Future Energy Jobs Act in 2017.
The law mandated two of the state's largest energy companies, Commonwealth Edison and Ameren Illinois, cut electricity waste by 21.5 percent and 16 percent respectively. The bill also set aside funding to train people for renewable energy jobs. Minnesota also requires utilities to provide 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, Preskill said.
In 2008, Missouri voters approved a ballot initiative that required all investor-owned utilities to generate or purchase at least 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2021. Last year the General Assembly also passed a bill that Owen expects to boost the number of solar systems in the state.
The bill mandates that between Jan. 1, 2019, and Dec. 31, 2023, investor-owned utilities provide rebates of 50 cents per watt installed to customers who install solar panel systems. The rebates apply to residential systems of up to 25 kilowatts and non-residential systems of up to 150 kilowatts. Systems installed after the end of 2023 receive a rebate of 25 cents per watt.
Solar energy jobs employed 3,115 people in 2018, an increase of 47 jobs over 2017, according to the report. Owen acknowledged the rebate program provides just small rebates to residential and non-residential customers.
Still, he expects the program to buoy solar panel sales in years to come.
Historically, Iowa, Texas and Illinois became renewable energy leaders in states near Missouri, Owen said. Adding 1,500 jobs in clean energy showed the state is starting to become a serious player in the clean energy sector.
"If you look at the states that have really succeeded, we're not talking about coastal states," Owen said. "These states are not very far from us. To me, that is substantial."
Editor’s note: James Owen also serves as a film critic for the Columbia Daily Tribune.