When it comes to clean energy, Midwest no flyover country

Published July 31, 2015

A rooftop solar array at West Union Elementary School in southern Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Energy Optimizers)

A rooftop solar array at West Union Elementary School in southern Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Energy Optimizers)

By Gail Parson

Clean energy is a growing force in the Midwest’s economy. But like any other industry, businesses involved in clean energy need strong policies to ensure that they can grow their markets and hire more workers.

That’s why the federal Clean Power Plan – which will be finalized any day – is so important.

While it provides plenty of flexibility for each state to develop its own plan to reduce carbon emissions from existing power plants, it will also send a strong, clear market signal to the private sector.

This will spur businesses, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, building owners, manufacturers and others to increase investment in clean energy projects like solar, wind, and energy efficiency, creating good jobs across the Midwest region.

See how in this brand-new E2 video featuring St. Louis-based Straight Up Solar:

Along with our partners throughout the Midwest, E2 has over the past year closely examined just how many people work in clean energy in this part of the country – and how the Clean Power Plan can help create more job opportunities. Here’s what we found, with links to our original reports:

  • 40,000 work in clean energy in Missouri.
  • Close to 89,000 work in clean energy in Ohio.
  • More than 100,000 work in clean energy in Illinois.
  • Since we began tracking clean energy jobs in 2011, Michigan has cracked the top 10 in our quarterly national clean energy jobs reports eight times. 
  • And according a report released by Advanced Energy Economy Institute, Iowa has a clean energy workforce of more than 22,000.

A variety of trades are found in jobs in renewable energy and energy efficiency: electricians, metal workers, architects, roofers, carpenters, plumbers and a suite of related construction trades. Professional jobs include those in sales and distribution.

And just as small businesses provide the backbone to America’s economy, they’re doing the same to the Midwest’s clean energy economy. As detailed in E2’s state-specific clean energy jobs studies, high percentages of businesses active in the clean energy space employ less than 25 workers.

One of the top industries for Midwestern clean energy jobs is energy efficiency. By making our schools, offices and residences use energy smarter, we can save money on our energy bills while also putting people to work in jobs that cannot be outsourced.

For example, Ohio-based Energy Optimizers is an energy efficiency company that ranked No. 484 on the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing companies in America. For one of its most recent projects, the company, based in Tipp City, worked with the rural Adams County Valley School District to save the community more than $259,000 annually in utility savings.

The school district is replacing boiler and HVAC systems with energy efficient equipment, and using LED technology for exterior lighting. Energy Optimizers is also working with a partner company to install a solar array at the district.

The 89,000 people employed in Ohio’s clean energy industry – like those at Energy Optimizers – have good reason to be looking forward to the finalization of the Clean Power Plan. Ever since Ohio lawmakers froze successful energy efficiency and renewable energy standards – and also put burdensome regulations on wind turbines – the state’s clean energy industry has been shedding workers and/or turning out-of-state to find business. The Clean Power Plan is one of the best ways to get Ohio’s clean energy industry back on track.

In Illinois, 125 businesses and counting have indicated support for the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, the most economically beneficial, market-based way for the state to meet the Clean Power Plan’s carbon pollution standards. The bill supports raising energy efficiency standards to 20 percent by 2025, and renewable energy standards to 35 percent by 2030.

The 40,000 people who are a part of Missouri’s growing clean energy workforce are all the evidence lawmakers need to pursue more in-state renewable energy and energy efficient projects. As the state drafts and prepares to publish this fall its first-ever energy plan, clean energy should be at the top of the list.

In Iowa, meanwhile, MidAmerica Energy announced in May that it’s increasing investment in wind energy, bringing the company’s total wind investment to $6.7 billion. This helps position the state to generate more than 40 percent of its electricity from the wind. When it comes to developing a strong state Clean Power Plan, Iowa has the ability to the lead the country.

Clean energy investment has already helped the gears turn in a revitalized Midwest economy. The Clean Power Plan will help get the Midwestern clean energy economy humming.

Chicago-based Gail Parson is E2’s Midwest Advocate. She can be reached at gail@e2.org.