Renewable energy: A place to find a sustainable job, part 2

Read part 1 of this article.

Nationally, solar and wind jobs have grown at rates of about 20% annually in recent years, according to the MCG and EDF report. Approximately 2.2 million energy efficiency workers are employed, which outshines the fossil fuel industry. Clean vehicles employed more than 174,000 workers in 2016. Green jobs in the government totaled 890,000 in past estimates, and now three quarters of corporate firms have dedicated sustainability budgets.

Wisconsin could be a potential contender in the green jobs sector someday. According to a Clean Jobs Midwest report, Wisconsin is home to 24,714 green jobs and is projected to grow by 4.8% over the next 12 months, resulting in an increase of 1,000 new green jobs for Wisconsinites. However, Wisconsin currently has the smallest green job workforce in the Midwest region due to unsupportive policies.

Nevertheless, opportunity is still appearing in surprising ways. A Midwest Energy News article discussed the nationally-recognized solar company, Sunrun, which has a presence in Wisconsin. Sunrun offers residential solar planning, installation, and financing. The company is teeming with employment opportunities for those interested in solar energy. Although there is a hotbed of political rejection toward green jobs in Wisconsin, the support for solar is found in progressive bipartisan attitudes. Sunrun’s senior manager of public policy, Amy Heart, pointed out that Wisconsin has some long-standing policies that are conducive to solar development.

Incentive for a major solar company to station in Wisconsin came from a record increase in solar jobs. From 2015 to 2016, solar jobs increased 45%. Sunrun commented that the opportunity in Wisconsin is very like the opportunity in South Carolina, which Sunrun hired nearly 200 employees.

A Milwaukee Business Journal article highlighted how the 2016 National Solar Jobs Census profiled Wisconsin now employing 2,800 workers compared to only 1,900 in 2015. The excitement of that growth has only just been tapped since solar makes up less than 1% of Wisconsin’s electricity production.

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Students may be persuaded to venture to other states that have better green energy policies, but Ken Walz, a chemistry and engineering instructor at Madison College, assured that this is not the case for most students.

Proximity seems to be the most important, Walz notes. Most students don’t want to move from Wisconsin. The biomass industry involves dairy farms or biofuel plants, which don’t relocate and offer long-term employment; the solar industry involves county to county installs, so everything is relatively close; and Dane County is one of the fastest growing solar job markets in the Midwest. However, the wind industry will most likely require relocation due to its mobile nature. New wind farms don’t recruit for permanent positions, and they recruit all over the country.



Renewable future

Joel Shoemaker, an instructor of solar energy at Madison College, shared his knowledge on the trends of photovoltaics and the role of the utility company.

Shoemaker highlighted how the photovoltaics job market has increased at a remarkable rate. This seems to be a steady trend.

The Wisconsin Distributed Resources Collaborative (WIDRC), made up of representatives from the utilities and the renewable energy advocates, looks at the adoption and implication of solar energy in the state. Shoemaker was involved with WIDRC for about four to five years, and he shared that the utilities were weary of making money at first, but that has changed.

Now, there is a community solar share, which MG&E is a part of. This involves distributed generation, meaning solar panel utilization to supplement current energy use. Shoemaker highlighted how this is a paradigm shift in adoption of renewables. However, the issue of how utility companies will make enough money to pay for infrastructure remains.

“Utilities have that choice. Are they going to try to discourage distributed generation or are they going to find some way of embracing it?” Shoemaker questioned.

In 2005, Wisconsin passed the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which states that in 10 years Wisconsin needs to get from 2% renewable electricity to 10%. By 2015 that benchmark was reached, primarily via wind and biomass digestors. Now in 2017, more than 25 states have Renewable Portfolio Standards, and Wisconsin’s is one of the very lowest.

“It seems like as you do more renewables, it gets easier not harder to do more. I think that’s something people were skeptical of,” Greg Nemet, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the La Follette School of Public Affairs and the Nelson Institute’s Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment, argued.

Even with Wisconsin lagging behind, there is still intrinsic motivation to achieve a greener state of existence. Green jobs seem to be a platform to aid in sustainable progress.

“Working on something that matters is really invigorating, and not all jobs feel that way. And then you end up working with people who are similarly motivated, and that is kind of a nice community to be a part of,” Nemet reminded.

Interested in pursuing a green energy career?

For more information about Madison College’s renewable energy certificates, visit:

Check out the solar lab at Madison College:

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