When advocates talk about the benefits of moving the state away from fossil fuels, they tout the jobs that could be generated from a green economy, one powered by offshore wind, solar, cleaner vehicles, and most of all, energy efficiency.
Now, a new study by a nonpartisan business group found clean energy is already a growing part of the state’s economy and is well-positioned to expand beyond the more than 50,000 jobs already in the sector with its aggressive targets set by legislators and the Murphy administration.
With nearly 52,000 jobs in renewable-energy areas, such as wind and solar, clean-vehicle manufacturing, and energy efficiency, New Jersey’s green economy employs about as many workers as UPS (19,000), Walmart (17,405) and Verizon (15,000) combined, according to a study by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2).
That total, based on 2018 employment data, was good enough to rank New Jersey ninth among states with the most renewable-energy and clean-energy jobs, according to the study. With New Jersey adopting even more aggressive clean-energy goals as a result of a comprehensive law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy a year ago yesterday, prospects for job growth in the sector are even brighter, advocates said.
“Now, after a landmark year of progress on policies that support jobs in solar, offshore wind, and energy efficiency, New Jersey’s clean energy business are reaping the awards of a stronger economy,’’ said Noah Dubin, eastern states advocate for E2.
“The Clean Energy Act ensures those numbers will grow,’’ predicted Mary Barber, director of regulatory and legislative affairs in New Jersey for the Environmental Defense Fund, referring to the law signed by Murphy.
Impact of state clean-energy goals
The study found that nearly 34,000 people were already employed in the energy-efficiency sector, which aims to curb electric and gas use by customers. Under the new law, the state’s utilities are mandated to reduce electricity use by 2 percent annually and gas use by 0.75 percent, Barber said.
“This will save families and businesses up to $200 million a year,’’ she said, “and more than triple the amount of people working in the sector.’’
The law also ramped up the state’s goals for offshore wind, establishing a phased system of developing 3,500 megawatts of wind power by 2030. Advocates say that target will expand employment in the renewable-energy sector, which the study estimated at nearly 12,000 current employees.
The study comes out at a time when there is increasing concern among consumer advocates about the cost of shifting to a clean-energy future in a state already with high energy bills. In most cases, the cost of conventional power is cheaper in the short term than clean energy.
Fighting headwinds in the solar sector
And there are other hurdles to achieving renewable energy goals. New Jersey’s solar sector has been its most promising renewable-energy sector to date, employing more than 8,000 who have installed more than 106,000 solar systems around the state, according to the E2 study.
A recent study by the Solar Foundation put the number of solar jobs in the state at just 6,410. And the state has also reported the rate of solar installations dropping in March and April to as low as 6 MW a month from what had been a rate of about 30 MW.
In addition, the cost has been high, leading lawmakers and the Murphy administration to scrap the current system of financing solar, creating much uncertainty about the sector’s future. At the same time, measures to foster the use of electric cars and otherwise electrify the transportation sector — the biggest single source of greenhouse gas emissions — are stalled in the Legislature.
Joseph Fiordaliso, president of the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities, acknowledged the importance of transforming the transportation sector. The agency will address that issue specifically in a new Energy Master Plan it expects to deliver in draft form this summer and, hopefully, adopt by the end of the year.
“The EMP will lay out a road map to guide us to 100 percent clean energy by 2050,’’ Fiordaliso said, referencing the state’s long-term goal. “The transition will take time and cost all of us some money, but it will create a new economy that will bolster our economy.’’