At least $25.7 billion in new US clean energy factories are in the works, thanks in part to the subsidies in Biden-Harris administration’s landmark climate law. Most of these projects — and the jobs that come with them — are in traditionally conservative states. Bloomberg calls these subsidies “a game changer” — the jobs they generate are winning over more conservative workers in the US to solar, batteries, and EVs.
“Everyone is trying to move forward. If we don’t change what we’re doing, we’re going to get left behind,” admits Wayne Lock, a quality engineer at a solar factory in Dalton, Georgia. This self-proclaimed “carpet capital of the world” has struggled with job diversification — at least until recently. Dalton now celebrates the biggest solar panel factory in the Western Hemisphere, and Qcells is ready to open a second plant in the area.
Congressional Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene muttered that “Earth warming and carbon is (sic) actually healthy for us.”
As is increasingly evident, some local economies are already benefiting from the energy transition — even if some of their elected representatives haven’t supported cleantech. And Georgia is not alone. Across the US, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is having ripple effects on economies, regardless of red state/ blue state affiliation. Lots of conservative workers are starting to experience the benefits of the transition to a clean energy economy.
The Impact of the IRA: Green Jobs, Conservative Workers
Democrats rallied and passed the most influential climate change legislation ever this year with the IRA. States that voted for former President Trump will receive most of the grants to promote battery and raw material production in the US with accompanying job growth.
The green jobs sector is robust and getting stronger by the year. In fact, the median salary in a green job is $76,530/year – 31% more than the national median salary for the US workforce at $58,260. Diversity, equity, and inclusion-focused green job training programs are upskilling green workers and promoting underrepresented talents.
Here are two examples of startups that have zoomed in on green jobs for all.
Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI) has a goal of creating an inclusive green economy for the people of Los Angeles to unlock innovation by working with startups to accelerate the commercialization of clean technologies. LACI runs a program for EV charger maintenance training. CEO Matt Petersen told CleanTechnica that the IRA is historic for climate policy but is also “momentous” for green job creation policy. “With 9 million estimated job creations over the next 10 years,” Petersen explains, opportunities in the circular economy will have “incentivized green workforce development programs.” The IRA supports the transition to a clean energy economy and is “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reinvest in our workforce and develop training programs that are tailored to the skills needed within the cleantech industry.”
Because it is critical to get ahead of the changing energy industry, communities will need new preparation for the careers of the future. “With an increase in transportation electrification goals and policies,” Petersen notes, “there will be a greater need for EV charging roles including installation and maintenance as well as microgrid and battery maintenance––training programs unique to that skillset can help future-proof our workforce.”
Small Businesses are Key to Cleantech Green Jobs
Decarbonization is the process of transitioning from the production and use of fossil fuels to more renewable and sustainable sources of energy. Underlying values, beliefs, and political orientations generally point to attitudes about decarbonization. Republicans in historically conservative states in the South and Midwest who once resisted the clean energy movement are now competing for these factories.
The points where conservatives and progressives coalesce is a collective pride in US innovation — a commonality in celebrating US values of individualism, self-reliance, and wherewithal. Nowhere is this more evident than in small business success. A thriving cleantech job market brings opportunities for big corporations shifting to new areas, sure, but also for diverse entrepreneurs and small business owners.
“Small businesses and innovation are the economic engines of this country,” Trish Cozart reminded us in a CleanTechnica exclusive. Cozart is the director at the Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center (IN²) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Tech startups in cleantech, she explained, have inherent obstacles, “especially when gathering capital for R&D to move them toward economic viability and commercialization.”
One solution is more investment for research, which Cozart says “may just mean the difference between failure and survival. And survival means more jobs when companies are able to make it over the technology valley of death and are accepted by the market.” Awards, such as IN²’s $1.25 million Channel Partner Awards, can be catalysts for business growth and talent retention for traditionally underrepresented players in this field. With additional philanthropic and IRA support, efforts to support BIPOC founders and advance inclusion within the cleantech sector will eventually close the gap and set up a stage for entrepreneurs of all kinds, Cozart predicts. IN²’s portfolio companies have collectively created 1,417 green jobs as of 2022.
Final Thoughts about Conservative Workers & Green Jobs
Today’s transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy requires systemic changes that will result not only in new products and services but also in changes in production processes, business models, skills required, and tasks involved in existing occupations. Green jobs need green skills — those attributes that comprise the knowledge, abilities, values, and attitudes needed to live in, develop, and support a sustainable and resource-efficient society.
We also need to make sure that this is an inclusive process that does not leave those behind that currently depend on unsustainable jobs. Upskilling and reskilling people for the green transition will be crucial. While it has seemed that conservative politicians and think tanks have insisted that almost anything we did to confront climate change would decimate the economy and impoverish the country, every announcement from the Biden-Harris administration about renewable energy is a sign of commitment to creating good blue-collar jobs. Political affiliation isn’t a criterion for these green jobs.
Take the Appalachian hills. It seemed a matter of fact for too long that this fossil-fuel-dependent area of the US would never reconcile itself to the need for climate action. Now policies that might benefit Appalachia are becoming more prevalent. As Princeton University professor Jesse Jenkins has argued, the “economic opportunity in the energy transition” might “fundamentally change the politics of climate.”
Conservative workers will be one of the primary beneficiaries of the transformation. It time for them to sit up and listen to the winds of change.
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