By Julia Purdy
Gov. Peter Shumlin has stated that Vermont now boasts 17,000 jobs in the clean energy industry. Where does that figure come from?
In May 2016 the Department of Public Service released the Vermont Clean Energy 2016 Industry Report, following reports in 2014 and 2015. The report measures rates of employment among categories in the clean energy sector in Vermont. In general, employment in these areas was up, compared to 2014 and 2015.
The survey was commissioned by the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund within the Department of Public Service. The survey instrument was developed by BW Research and administered via telephone interviews by the Castleton Polling Institute in February and March 2016. Data was collected as of the time of contact. The call list included the “known universe” of employers, including sole proprietors, involved with clean energy in Vermont as well as a random sample of likely companies, said Andrew Perchlik, manager of the fund.
The study focused its inquiry on full- and part-time permanent employees. To be exact, the study determined that as of the survey date, 17,715 workers, or 6 percent of the state’s workforce, were spending at least part of their time working in clean energy, which was defined in the interview instrument as direct involvement in “research, development, production, manufacture, installation, sale, or distribution of goods and services related to renewable energy and energy efficiency, including clean fuels and transportation; firms engaged in services such as consulting, finance, tax, and legal services that support the clean economy anything having to do with construction, manufacturing, sales, repair, transport; and professional/business services for solar, wind, bioenergy, and energy efficiency programs and clean vehicles.”
“Energy efficiency-related employment remains the state’s largest segment of the clean energy economy,” the report states, although it was slow-growing compared to employment in renewable energy, which had grown by more than 50 percent since 2014 and numbered nearly 7,000 workers at the time of the survey. The energy-efficiency sector accounted for “nearly half of all clean energy jobs across the state,” or 48.5 percent, while renewable energy generation represented 39.3 percent of the clean energy workforce, and those working in “clean transportation” trailed behind at 5.2 percent. Storage and smart grid technology jobs also totaled about 5 percent.
The report acknowledges that there is significant crossover in many of these positions between the skilled trades such as builders and electricians and jobs specific to clean energy. The survey queried respondents as to what percentage of time was spent by their workers in activities directly related to clean energy. While 40 percent of surveyed companies engaged exclusively in clean-energy activities, the report found that 70 percent of workers in the energy-efficiency sector spent the majority of their time in that activity.
This sector employed 6,965 workers in Vermont. Reponses showed that 57 percent of workers in this sector spent 100 percent of their time working in it.
Employment in “renewable energy generation” was broken down by percentages of the total, as follows: solar, 30.5 percent; woody biomass, 22.2 percent; ethanol/non-woody biomass and renewable heating and cooling, about equal at 13.5 percent ; wind, 5.3 percent; traditional hydro, 5.1 percent; low-impact hydro, 0.3 percent; and “other” (hydrogen/fuel cells and mixed sources), 9.6 percent.
The total workforce in renewable fuels alone (non-woody biomass, woody biomass, ethanol, biodiesel, landfill methane, agricultural waste, and all other biofuels) was 2,500 at the time of the study.
Solar electricity generation employed more than 2,100 workers at the time of the survey—the state’s largest single employer in clean energy.
The state regards the “wood energy” sector as a “critical component of the state’s clean economy.” For the first time, in 2016 the sector was broken out into smaller categories for scrutiny to get a firmer picture of its present condition and future prospects. The survey encompassed foresters and loggers, processors and purveyors of firewood and other wood-based fuels, as well as manufacturers, sellers, servicers and installers of both residential and industrial woodburning appliances. These “full-time-equivalent” workers numbered slightly over 1,542.
The wood energy industry is dominated by small, often home-based, companies. Over three-quarters of those respondents reported company sizes varying from one to five permanent employees, while a sizeable number—somewhat less than half—reported that 100 percent of their revenue normally derives from wood-related activity. Over half (53 percent) are engaged in timber harvesting.
As with the study in general, workforce numbers were based on how many workers spent over half of their time engaged in clean energy activities, whether manufacturing, selling, installing, replacing or repairing. Employment in the energy-efficiency sector was broken down into the following categories: efficiency lighting, 45.3 percent; building materials/insulation, 29.3 percent; traditional HVAC equipment and servicing, 6.6 percent; high-efficiency heating and cooling/Energy Star, 3.6 percent; Energy Star appliances, 0.8 percent; and “Other,” 6.6 percent.
A small minority of respondents (929) owned shops that worked with clean vehicles, mainly in sales and repairs. The leading category was hybrid vehicles , employing 55 percent of the workforce, followed by electric cars at 44.8 percent. Fuel-cell and hydrogen powered vehicles each accounted for 0.1 percent of the workforce.
Respondents were also asked about their hiring experience. (The responses were not broken down by sector.) The majority (89 percent) reported difficulty in finding qualified applicants; 34 percent said it was “very difficult,” while 20.7 percent said it was “not at all difficult.” Difficulty was reported by respondents in hiring managerial and supervisory personnel (28 percent) as well as electricians and construction workers (24 percent).
About one-third of respondents reported lack of “qualifications, certifications, or education” followed by “lack of experience, training, or technical skills.” Twenty-four percent cited competition from other employers or an insufficient number of applicants.
Perchlik explained that the Vermont studies were modeled after a similar project done in 2011 in Massachusetts. A census of clean energy workers had not previously been done in Vermont and the Vermont Department of Public Service recognized that a workforce study would add an essential component to the longitudinal data on trends and progress in and the needs of the clean energy industry.
To supplement the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, BW Research has been conducting a state-by-state national study modeled after the Vermont example and will make Vermont-specific fourth-year data available to the state in spring 2017, Perchlik said.