Tennessee sees rise in clean energy jobs

Tennessee is seeing a rise in jobs in the clean energy sector, reports groups Environmental Entrepreneurs, or E2.

This is propelled by it’s healthy manufacturing sector.

Gains in Tennessee’s robust manufacturing sector accounted for nearly half of new clean-energy jobs here over the past year, and the state ranks high for overall growth in the industry, according to a new report from national nonpartisan business group

About 2,600 jobs were created last year by employers operating in the energy-efficiency, renewable-energy, clean-transportation, and greenhouse-gas management and accounting sectors — an increase of 6.3 %, according to the Clean Jobs Tennessee report. That’s nearly triple the state’s overall employment growth. Businesses told the report’s authors they expect to fill an additional 2,500 positions by 2016.

“Tens of thousands of Tennesseans wake up every morning and head to work in the clean-energy industry,” said Bob Keefe, E2 executive director. “It’s a growing part of the state’s economy — but it could be even bigger. If Tennessee wants to catch up with national leaders in clean energy, it can — and must — do more. A good place to start is by emphasizing renewable energy and energy efficiency as the state implements the forthcoming federal Clean Power Plan.”

Overall, clean-energy workers account for 1.6 % of the Tennessee’s labor market, with about 45,000 workers. While those employees are spread across more than 2,600 businesses, Tennessee is “somewhat unique” among states studied, say researchers, because more than 25 % of the state’s energy employment is found in fewer than 10 employers — especially TVA — that are focused on renewable-energy generation, electric-vehicle manufacturing, and production of Energy Star appliances.

Most — more than 21,000 — support installation and generation, but over the past 12 months, the manufacturing sector grew by nearly 10 %, adding 1,200 jobs. Tennessee also boasts the largest amount of manufacturing jobs in the study.

Energy efficiency (47 % of workers) and renewable energy (37 %) compose the bulk of Tennessee’s clean energy industry, although alternative transportation does account for about 5,500 jobs, mostly thanks to production of the Nissan Leaf electric car in Smyrna. About 70 % of renewable-technology firms say solar generates significant business; bio energy (27 %) and geothermal (25 %) also represent a sizable of chunk of business.

Nearly 80 % of clean-energy customers are within the state, but Tennessee’s strong manufacturing sector supports an industry that is more export-driven compared with other states where similar studies have been conducted. Many clean-energy businesses in Tennessee (44 %) support in-state suppliers and vendors, while 49 % source their equipment from outside the state.

“Our local clean-energy economy transformed through the last few years with increasing focus on energy and a rapid expansion of the solar energy,” said Harvey Abouelata, president of Aries Energy in Knoxville and one of three business owners across the state who were featured in the report. “Tennessee has the potential to be a leading edge in clean-energy innovation. … I would love to see the state brand itself with ‘Tennessee: Where energy begins.’”

Despite the recent growth, Tennessee currently lags national clean-energy leaders, including neighboring North Carolina, in the number of related jobs. Particular opportunities exist for growth by bringing more suppliers to our established major employers and in the building trades, said Phil Jordan, the report’s co-author and vice president of BW Research Partners. Many employers in the study favored consumer financial incentives to accelerate the adoption of clean-energy goods and services. More than a quarter advocated for new regulations and standards.

While consumer incentives have declined in recent years, new government rules are on the horizon. One initiative is the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. Though it’s not yet official, the plan would set targets to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants by about 39 % in Tennessee — in part through more renewable energy and energy efficiency.

On the state level, Gov. Bill Haslam’s $200 million investment in the EmPower TN initiative will institute an enterprise-wide strategy for lowering costs through better energy management of state facilities. Applications for the program closed earlier this month, with 34 applications representing a potential $30 million in projects from various state agencies and higher education campuses, according to spokeswoman Michelle Martin.

Awards will be announced in September. Savings could total about $3.5 million annually, she said.

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