Green employment more than doubled in second quarter

September 3, 2014, 5:23 PM UTC
A SolarCity Installation
A SolarCity Corp. employee installs a solar panel on the roof of a home in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif.
Photo by Bloomberg—Getty Images

If you’re seeing more solar panels on top of your neighbors’ houses (or maybe your own) lately, it’s no fluke. Solar installations jumped a record 41% last year and, after dropping off in the first quarter of 2014, are leading a mini-boom in renewable energy, adding more than 5,300 new jobs in April through June. That’s according to the latest report from Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), a nonprofit association of businesses and investors that tracks green job creation.

Most of the growth in solar energy has come from new residential installations, the report says, and not only in sunny states like Arizona and California. New York and Massachusetts, neither known for its mild winters, are prime solar territory too. The reason: Both Northeastern states have strong “net metering” policies, which let homeowners sell their excess electricity back to the grid.

Wind power is picking up speed too, adding about 2,700 jobs, with a ripple effect on turbine manufacturers, like Vestas in Colorado, which has added factory workers to meet demand. The biggest boost to green jobs in manufacturing came from the automotive sector: General Motors and Tesla will bring on 1,900 more employees to build electric vehicles.

Altogether, renewable-energy projects of one kind or another created jobs in 29 states in the U.S. The top 10: Arizona, California, Michigan, Utah, Massachusetts, New York, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, and North Carolina.

The growth spurt in green energy projects is partly a reaction to the Clean Power Plan, a raft of new regulations the federal Environmental Protection Agency proposed in June that aims to cut carbon emissions from power plants by 30% by 2030. E2 is all for it, estimating that the new rules will create hundreds of thousands of new green jobs while cutting electric bills for businesses and consumers by about $37 billion a year.

Just one hitch: Although the Clean Power Plan gives states plenty of leeway in choosing how to start switching over to more renewable energy sources, 12 of them—including major coal-producing states like Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia—have teamed up to file a lawsuit (the first ever such action against a federal agency by a coalition of states) that would stop the plan cold. Murray Energy Corp., the largest privately held coal-mining company in the U.S., has also filed a lawsuit.

Uncertainty about federal regulatory and tax policy has been a big reason why green energy investments, and job creation, have been slow and sporadic so far.

“Businesses depend on market certainty, and clean energy businesses are no different,” says Jonathan Foster, CFO of energy software services company Nexant and a director of E2 in northern California. The legal challenges to the EPA’s proposed rules will probably drag on for months, if not years, which seems likely to make that certainty as elusive as ever.