Clean energy jobs on rise, growing economy in Northern Nevada and beyond
Northern Nevada Business Weekly
Back in 2009, Nevada was on especially shaky terrain — limping among the nation’s 50 states with the lowest employment growth at minus 7.1 percent.
Eight years later, the Silver State has arguably never been more rock-solid. In fact, from 2011 to 2017, Nevada has created more than 250,000 jobs and dropped its unemployment rate to as low as 4 percent, according to previous reports.
Moreover, in 2017, Nevada had the top employment growth rate in the country, boasting year-over-year job gains at 3.3 percent, according to the U.S. Labor Department.
Along the way, the energy landscape throughout the state — and country and globe, for that matter — has been transformed over the past decade.
From the 1.9 million-square-foot and growing Tesla Gigafactory 1 in Storey County to the 110-megawatt Crescent Dunes solar field in Tonopah, jobs in the clean energy sector are on the rise and growing the economy in Northern Nevada and across the Silver State.
All told, there are roughly 31,000 Nevadans currently working in the state’s clean energy sector, according to the Clean Jobs Nevada 2017 report.
The report — compiled by the national group E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs) and the Las Vegas-based Clean Energy Project — showed clean energy jobs in the state grew 9.5 percent from 2016, equating to a boost of 2,700 jobs. For comparison, the state’s non-farm workforce grew by about 3 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Nevada a national leader
Karen Wayland, executive director of the Clean Energy Project, said Nevada is undoubtedly a national leader in clean energy jobs. Wayland formerly served on the senior leadership team for Obama Administration’s Quadrennial Energy Review (QER).
“When I was in the Obama Administration, I established the state, local and tribal policy office in the energy policy and systems analysis office,” Wayland said in a phone interview with the NNBW. “I looked across the country at all of the states and saw that Nevada is really a leader. Because we have a lot of resources and because that state has been making investments and policies and programs and really taken advantage of clean energy.
“It’s a two-for: we have great resources and we have great commitment from policy-makers and companies and businesses to drive the clean energy economy.”
The Clean Jobs Nevada report shined a spotlight on positions where at least some portion of time is spent on renewable energy generation, energy generation, energy efficiency, advanced grid, advanced transportation, or clean fuels.
Energy efficiency provides the most clean energy jobs statewide (16,000) and in Northern Nevada (3,100), led by HVAC goods and services, energy efficient lighting, and Energy Star appliances and building materials.
Meanwhile, for a state with some 300 sunny days per year, it comes as no surprise where the bulk of the state’s renewable energy jobs lie: the solar industry. Of the 14,500 Nevadans working in renewable energy, most are involved in solar installation and maintenance, the report says.
In all, roughly 19,000 Nevadans working in clean energy are employed in the construction sector, according to the report, performing tasks like making homes, buildings, offices and schools more energy efficient.
In Northern Nevada, roughly 9,200 clean energy jobs exist, with Washoe County leading the way at 6,100 jobs, according to the report. Clark County has the highest number of clean energy jobs in the Silver State at 20,900. Rounding out the top five counties are Carson City (1,400), Elko (900) and Douglas (800).
Mike Kazmierski, president and CEO at Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada (EDAWN), said the influx of clean energy jobs has helped rebranded the region as a clean energy hub.
“I think the days of old polluting industries are over,” Kazmierski told the NNBW. “And we discourage companies that are high-energy users — and certainly high-water users — to consider other places.
“We’re starting to rebrand the region — the new Reno-Sparks — as one that’s very environmentally friendly. We’re exited by that branding change.”
As a result, Kazmierski said the region is attracting the talent that wants to be in a community that is environmentally friendly.
“And that attraction of the talent is more important than ever right now,” he added.
Undoubtedly, a big talent draw to this region is the Tesla Gigafactory 1. According to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development’s last report released in November 2017, there are more than 1,000 local, full-time employees at the Gigafactory and more than 2,200 construction workers.
In an email to the NNBW, a Tesla spokesperson said those numbers have grown significantly since the GOED report, and Nevadans average 96 percent of the employee workforce.
At full capacity, the Gigfactory, which is roughly 30 percent complete, is projected to create at least 6,500 clean energy jobs, according to Tesla.
Tesla’s Gigafactory partner Panasonic has a growing workforce of about 1,500 employees, Panasonic spokesperson Lauren Davis said in an email to the NNBW.
“With our initiative to hire locally, we have just over 95 percent of our employee base living here in Northern Nevada,” Davis said. “We have hundreds of openings currently, in one of the most advanced manufacturing operations in the world. We are proud to have been able to bring these jobs to the area and of the collaborations that have made the possible.”
Notably, the Gigafactory is currently hiring and looking for candidates from entry level to technicians to supervisors.
ROOM FOR GROWTH
Despite the surge in clean energy workers over the past decade, Wayland sees plenty of opportunities to create more of such jobs in the Silver State.
“We need to increase the renewable portfolio standard (RPS) so that we’re setting goals that push us, that push companies, that push utilities, to bring more clean energy online,” Wayland said.
Wayland pointed to policies on the 2018 ballot, such as bills that require electricity providers to run energy efficiency programs, including those targeted to low-income customers.
“It’s easy for a well-to-do person to put solar panels on their house,” Wayland said. “It’s not easy for a person that lives in a rental apartment or low-income housing to take advantage of this cheap, clean electricity. I think more needs to be done there.”
Another boost to clean energy jobs, Wayland said, is supporting community solar, and allowing customers to pick who provides their electricity.
Wayland is referring to “Question 3: The Energy Choice Initiative,” which was approved in 2016 and would amend the constitution if approved again in the 2018 general election. As it currently stands, NV Energy, the state’s largest utility, has a regulated monopoly on supplying power generation to customers.
The Clean Energy Project and E2 also support the continuation of Gov. Sandoval’s tax abatement programs for clean energy development.
According to the Governor’s Office of Energy, the projects that have received an abatement from the GOE created more than 4,600 jobs that paid an average wage of $37 an hour.
“These are jobs across the education spectrum, across the technology spectrum, and they’re jobs that aren’t going to be outsourced,” Wayland said. “You can’t outsource energy efficiency installation, solar installation — those are Nevada jobs. And they’re contributing to an economy in a way that not only do you get good salaries, you get growing businesses.
“They are jobs that are building an economy and drawing more businesses to the state.”
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With a 5.9% unemployment rate, Nevada County ranked 12th out of the state’s 58 counties in employment rate last month, according to the latest data released by the state Employment Development Department.