“Green jobs” is a catchy little term — so catchy that has almost become cliche. It expresses the idea that the job of transitioning our economy from one reliant on fossil fuels to one powered by clean energy is a big one — one that will necessarily create a variety of new economic opportunities.
There are, however, two big misunderstandings about “green jobs.” The first (which we’ve talked about before here) is that there’s nothing particularly “green” about many “green jobs” — they’re just ordinary jobs that can be done by ordinary workers with ordinary skills. (There are some exceptions, though, which we’ll address in a new report on green job training programs due out by the end of the month.)
The second misunderstanding is the belief that if a given piece of technology is manufactured abroad, all we are doing is creating “green jobs” overseas. In fact, even if America didn’t have a vibrant clean energy manufacturing sector, which it does, clean energy investments would still create vast numbers of new domestic jobs in research, planning, installation, and operations and maintenance.
Our new report, Catching the Wind — written in partnership with Environment Maryland Research & Policy Center and the United Steelworkers union — documents the vast potential for economic development in just one sector of the green economy: offshore wind energy.
The scale and breadth of the economic opportunities presented by offshore wind are astounding. Every offshore wind installation requires not only turbines, but also foundations made from hundreds of tons of steel, submarine cables, transformers and other electrical equipment, helicopters, specialized ships, tools, transportation, financial and legal expertise, consulting from environmental and meteorological experts, and other goods and services too numerous to count.
The United States has a great deal of catching up to do to reap that full potential — the current industry leaders are in nations such as Denmark and the United Kingdom, which have lots of practical experience in the construction and operation of offshore wind parks. But the opportunity is there. The offshore wind resource off America’s Atlantic Coast is immense. Our major Atlantic cities and ports are well positioned to host new offshore wind-related industries. And, asCatching the Wind demonstrates, there are hundreds, if not thousands of existing businesses that have the tools and expertise to begin participating in the offshore wind economy right now.
If Maryland and other East Coast states hope to develop a local offshore wind industry — one that can not only keep jobs in the American economy but also reduce the cost of future offshore wind installations — it is imperative that they work together to make a significant commitment to offshore wind energy. The approval of the Cape Wind project off Massachusetts is a good first step, but we need to increase the pace of development to ensure that the environmental and economic benefits of offshore wind power aren’t lost at sea.
Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group
Tony Dutzik is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. His research and ideas on climate, energy and transportation policy have helped shape public policy debates across the U.S., and have earned coverage in media outlets from the New York Times to National Public Radio. A former journalist, Tony lives and works in Boston.