In Knoxville, clean energy is making a positive impact on the community in various ways: solar panels are giving homes and businesses the independence to generate their own renewable, emission-free electricity; energy efficiency programs are saving people money on utility bills and improving indoor comfort; and, electric cars are cutting down on rush-hour air pollution and eliminating dependence on oil.
Thanks to our growing clean energy industry, we are enjoying cleaner air, improved public health and a brighter path forward to a sustainable energy future. But with all of these improvements underway, clean energy is also creating many good jobs and helping to grow the economy.
Employer survey results were recently released in a report entitled, “Clean Jobs Tennessee: Sizing Up Tennessee’s Clean Energy Jobs Base and its Potential.” According to the report, there are nearly 45,000 clean energy jobs in Tennessee. The count went up 6.3% this year, which exceeds the 2.2% job growth rate in Tennessee. Employers expect clean energy employment to increase by an additional 5.7% in the next year.
Clean energy jobs tend to have an above-average impact on the economy. Researchers at Environmental Entrepreneurs determined that clean energy jobs across the country pay wages 13% higher on average than the U.S. median wage. Also, investments in clean energy can significantly reduce operating costs, freeing up funds for businesses to expand and create jobs. Moreover, the money that residents save on their utility bills can be spent in the local economy and will expand small businesses.
As president of local clean energy employer ARiES Solar , I see the impacts of clean energy jobs daily. Our clean energy economy has been transformed over the last few years, with an increasing focus on energy efficiency and a rapid expansion of solar energy. ARiES works to fill the increasing demand for clean energy by providing customized installation services in solar energy, energy efficiency and other clean energy technologies. Our company has experienced growth every quarter since its founding in 2011, employs 10 people and is growing.
If you live in the Knoxville area, there is a good chance that you have seen ARiES Solar ’s work. We have installed solar systems at several commercial locations, including the Knoxville Zoo, the Bearden Beer Market, Wykoff Attorney at Law, City of Knoxville Jacob’s Building, Three Rivers Market, McFarland Pharmacy, Century Plaza, and the R.M. Moore property. We have also completed a variety of commercial lighting retrofits, including a project at 212 Market that has reduced the restaurant’s lighting energy by 71%.
In addition, ARiES Solar helped to develop a biomass gasification plant at Wampler’s Farm Sausage that utilizes locally grown switchgrass to produce on-demand clean hydrogen which is used to generate electricity. The plant is the first system of its kind in the world and demonstrates that Tennessee has the potential to be on the leading edge of clean energy innovation.
When you think about energy policy and job creation, it is important to know how the clean energy industry stacks up to traditional fossil fuel industries like coal. With 174,000 workers nationwide, the solar industry employs roughly twice as many Americans as the coal mining industry.
Here in Tennessee we are lucky, thanks to Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). From the Green Power Switch Program (GPS), where consumers may choose to devote a portion of their energy bill to a variety of clean energies; the Green Power Providers Program (GPP), which encourages investment in solar development; the Renewable Standard Offer (RSO), a plan that incentivizes biomass, solar and methane energies; to the Solar Solution Initiative (SSI), which promotes the installation of mid-sized solar projects with local providers; Tennesseans can make their own choices on how they consume energy.
Those who live in the TVA region have the added advantage of incentive programs. TVA’s EnergyRight Solutions program, which incentivizes projects that reduce energy consumption, is financially beneficial, not only for energy consumers, but also for Tennessee’s job market. Patronizing organizations that have chosen to take advantage of clean energy initiatives supports not only the movement for a cleaner Tennessee, but also the creation of jobs here in our home market.
Public policy support is an important factor in ensuring the continued growth of Tennessee’s clean energy industry. Smart policies like the Environmental Protection Agency’s recently released Clean Power Plan will drive further job growth and help save money on utility bills. This plan is expected to reduce average electricity bills by 8%, and provide almost $40 billion in bill savings by 2020. Looking at energy efficiency alone, the Clean Power Plan could create 270,000 jobs, with many more in renewable energy and other related sectors.
When you go to the ballot boxes or talk to your elected representatives, please keep in mind the many opportunities offered by the clean energy industry in Tennessee, including continued job creation and economic growth. Thank you for your continued support on economic development, energy independence, and environmental stewardship in Tennessee. Together we will continue to brand our state: Tennessee: Where energy begins!