A new economic report commissioned by two conservation groups says Montana will support more than 4,000 clean energy jobs in the next two decades.
The Montana Environmental Information Center and the Sierra Club hired Massachusetts-based Synapse Energy Inc. to analyze the impact of clean energy jobs based on market trends. The report found that Montana, which exports more than half of its energy produced to other states, should expect a steady increase of short- and long-term jobs related to solar, wind and energy efficiency.
“With the federal government’s new carbon pollution standards, the state will have to develop more renewable energy jobs,” said Kyla Maki, MEIC Clean Energy Program director.
The highest number of jobs created will come in wind, with more than 3,000 jobs related to constructing and operating wind farms. Solar will create more than 600 jobs and energy efficiency 264 jobs, according to the report. The numbers are conservative, Maki said.
Synapse determined the number of jobs by averaging expected jobs per year, meaning that short-term construction jobs that last a year or two would not count toward a gross total, but would count as part of an average, said Tyler Comings of Synapse.
Two-thirds to three-quarters of jobs would fall under short-term construction jobs depending on the type of energy production, he said.
Though funding for the report came from conservation groups, the report is based on statistics and raw numbers that are objective, Comings said.
“We’ve staked our reputation on being objective,” he said, noting that Synapse has contracted with many different entities and governmental agencies.
The report does not consider the jobs as new jobs created or account for jobs lost in other energy sectors, Comings said.
“The report doesn’t say these jobs are a replacement for Montana’s 2,500 coal jobs,” Maki said.
Most of Montana’s exported energy goes to Oregon and Washington. With those states maxing out their ability to create wind energy and Montana with an abundance of wind potential, the opportunity to continue to sell clean energy to those states should grow, Maki said.
The closing of a nuclear power plant in California could also open a market for Montana-produced clean energy, she said.
Coal producers took a dim view of the report.
Regulation of coal-produced power will slow the economy, cause job losses across various sectors and increase electricity rates, said Chuck Denowh, spokesman for Count on Coal Montana.
“The Sierra Club’s report is just poorly-executed propaganda,” Denowh said. “It does nothing to take into account the massive job losses Montana will experience as a result of President Obama’s greenhouse gas regulations. If anything, the report just confirms what we’ve been saying all along: Renewable energy isn’t labor-intensive enough to replace the jobs in mining, transportation and electricity-generation that are related to coal.”
A major factor in increasing Montana’s energy exporting is an upgrade of transmission lines in Colstrip. That would open up transmission potential for coal, gas or clean energy depending on market trends, Maki said.
“The transmission lines don’t discriminate based on what type of power is being produced,” she said.
MEIC hopes the clean energy job report, which is the first of its kind for the state, can serve as a resource and calm some fears related to clean energy jobs, Maki said.