September 3, 2015
President Obama is taking his climate action plan on the road. This week, in Alaska, melting glaciers were a fitting backdrop for his call to reduce the carbon emissions that contribute to global warming. And in Nevada last week, he said the federal government is fast-tracking permits for new solar installations.
“And one of the reasons we’ve done this is not just because it’s good for the environment and good for the overall economy—it takes workers to install all this new capacity,” he said. “And that’s why last year the solar industry added jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.”
Obama says there are already twice as many solar workers as coal miners in the U.S. The administration’s Clean Power Plan would reduce carbon from coal-fired power plants by nearly a third by 2030. It also encourages more solar and other renewable energies.
Coal-dependent West Virginia, and other states like Ohio and Michigan, are fighting the rules in court.
But Pennsylvania’s Governor Tom Wolf welcomes them. Rick Umoff of the Solar Energy Industries Association says that’s what solar businesses want to hear.
“Once we start to see a longer-term signal from leaders in the state and some real policy set up that shows some desire to invest in an industry, that’s when our companies start to move into those states,” Umoff says.
Currently, about 3,000 people are employed in the solar industry in Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf’s budget proposal includes incentives for more solar and other clean energy industries. But with the budget still at an impasse, Umoff says solar companies may be uncertain whether Pennsylvania is a friendly place to grow their industry.
One hold up in the state budget is Governor Wolf’s proposal to levy a severance tax on the natural gas industry. Opponents of a tax say it'll scare off business and threaten jobs that feed Pennsylvania's economy. But how many of these jobs actually go to people who live near gas wells? A new study says not as many as you might think.
Tim Kelsey, an agricultural economist at Penn State University, looked at tax return data from the Pennsylvania Department of Revenue. At the height of the gas boom, in 2011, he found that half the jobs in drilling counties were taken by people from outside the county. Those people could still live in Pennsylvania but be from from a different county. Or they could be from places outside the region, like Oklahoma or Texas.
“If those jobs being created are not going to local residents, they're going to others who are coming in temporarily and then immediately leaving,” Kelsey says. “That doesn't leave much of a benefit at all to the community.”
But Kelsey says even though half the jobs went to outsiders during the gas boom, that still means half of them went to local residents. He says that's helpful because in the small communities where most drilling occurs, jobs can be scarce.