Co-authored by Fred Keeley
The California State Senate recently passed a sweeping legislative package to bolster California's fight against climate change. This came on the heels of Governor Jerry Brown signing an historic agreement with leaders from 11 states and provinces around the world to achieve meaningful reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and issuing an executive order committing California to the most aggressive emissions-reduction targets in the nation.
While some have applauded the Governor and legislature's leadership on addressing climate change, others quickly labeled the efforts as job-killers. They could not be more wrong. These bold actions are not only good for the environment; they are good for business. The clean technology economy is one of the fastest growing sectors in the economy, creating tens of thousands of good jobs in the past decade. Governor Brown's actions will spur California to lead the clean-tech economy for decades to come.
California has been the epicenter of innovation in America over the last 100 years. Our companies have revolutionized the entertainment, agriculture, transportation, energy, and technology sectors. Today, it is increasingly clear that clean energy is the next frontier in the innovation economy. California already has a head start.
Venture capital investments have poured into the clean energy sector, providing more than $27 billion to California companies in the past 10 years. Driven in part by earlier emissions reduction targets, California's renewable energy use doubled from 11% in 2008 to over 20% in 2014. That growth created hundreds of thousands of new jobs. In the past five years, the solar workforce alone has grown from 93,000 workers to 173,000 - an 86% increase. In just the past two years, the clean energy sector created over 120,000 new jobs across the country, over 15,000 of which were in California. The vast majority of these jobs pay well above the state average.
With the Governor's call to accelerate the adoption of renewable energy, the role of clean technology in driving the 21st century innovation economy will only increase. The legislature's Committee on Jobs, Economic Development and the Economy found that "The Innovation Economy has four key elements": expertise, interaction, diversity and application. These elements are present in nearly every new and expanding company working in renewable energy, smart electricity and grid reliability.
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group has established "clean energy efficiency, grid modernization and energy agency modernization" as their top priorities this year, and they need look no further than their own backyard to see companies with good paying jobs that also have substantial career ladders, sprouting up (or expanding) from San Francisco to San Jose, from Livermore to Santa Cruz.
Southern California is similarly situated to see its economy grow in substantial part as a direct result of the Governor's greenhouse gas reduction order. The Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy recently found Los Angeles and San Diego have recovered nearly all jobs lost in the recession. The challenge now is to move beyond the halting recovery and find areas for sustained and high-quality job growth. With their concentrations of world-class higher education institutions and increasingly well-capitalized science and technology companies, LA and San Diego are well positioned to lead the clean technology economy.
The question is not whether the Governor's actions are good for California, but just how good they can be. Observers debate whether clean technology will generate tens or hundreds of thousands of new jobs in California in the next decade. Thanks to the Governor's leadership, optimistic projections are more likely than ever. These jobs will range from research and technology, to product development, manufacturing, sales, installation and maintenance, as well as capital formation and management. And the products these workers and companies generate will save Californians billions of dollars in energy costs.
Achieving bold emissions reductions targets will not kill jobs. It will spur the creation of the next generation of name-brand companies right here in California. These companies will create products that improve the world, lower our energy bills, and generate thousands of good jobs that we desperately need throughout our state. When they do, all Californians will benefit.
Fred Keeley is a member of the Board of Advisors for the Clean Coalition. Steve Westly is Managing Partner of The Westly Group, a sustainability venture firm. He previously served as California state controller.