One problem I have when I am writing a blog post is that there is a target rich environment. In this case I was working on a post about Governor Hochul’s announcement concerning the Champlain Hudson Power Express (CHPE) transmission project starting construction. One topic I wanted to address in the post concerned jobs and another Hochul announcement about a record number of clean energy jobs came up in our discussion that needed to be addressed.. This post describes the 2022 New York Clean Energy Industry Report.
Everyone wants to do right by the environment to the extent that they can afford to and not be unduly burdened by the effects of environmental policies. I submitted comments on the Climate Act implementation plan and have written over 250 articles about New York’s net-zero transition because I believe the ambitions for a zero-emissions economy embodied in the Climate Act outstrip available renewable technology such that it will do more harm than good. The opinions expressed in this post do not reflect the position of any of my previous employers or any other company I have been associated with, these comments are mine alone.
Climate Act Background
The Climate Act establishes a “Net Zero” target (85% reduction and 15% offset of emissions) by 2050. The Climate Action Council is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that will “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda”. The Integration Analysis prepared by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and its consultants quantifies the impact of the strategies. That material was used to write a Draft Scoping Plan that was released for public comment at the end of 2021. The Climate Action Council states that it will finalize the Scoping Plan by the end of the year. There are two underlying problems with the Climate Action Council approach for the transition plan: the Draft Scoping Plan does not include a feasibility analysis and the Council has not considered the need for an implementation plan.
A major emphasis in the transition planning is on clean energy industry jobs. The Climate Act required a Just Transition Working Group Jobs Study to “provide a robust understanding of the impacts of climate change mitigation, to assess potential effects on the job market, and to understand impacts to training, education, and workforce development.” The creation of clean energy jobs has been a point of emphasis as an advantage of the net-zero transition and the Climate Act mandated regular updates on the number of clean energy jobs in the state.
Clean Energy Industry Report
On the day before the CHPE announcements Hochul announced a record level of clean energy jobs in New York. That claim was based on the NYSERDA New York Clean Energy Industry Report 2022 that found:
More than 165,000 New Yorkers had clean energy jobs at the end of 2021, up from 157,686 in 2020.
New York’s clean energy employment grew 5% from 2020 through 2021 – gaining over 7,000 jobs in 12 months.
Employment met or exceeded pre-pandemic levels in almost all technology sectors. Renewable electric power generation, alternative transportation, renewable fuels, grid modernization, and energy storage all reached or surpassed their pre-pandemic employment levels by the end of 2021.
The alternative transportation technology sector saw unprecedented growth between 2020 and 2021 and employment expanded by almost 26% or 2,318 jobs in just 12 months.
Solar accounted for the largest share of job gains in the renewable electric power generation technology sector.
The industries with the largest job growth were labor and civic organizations, software publishers, durable goods merchant wholesalers, and machinery, equipment, and supplies wholesalers
There are times when I read something that is a “You have to be kidding me” moment. For example, the claim that the largest clean energy job growth was in the in the labor and civic organizations sector was one of those. The Climate Act mandates that the Just Transition Working Group estimate “the number of jobs created to counter climate change, which shall include but not be limited to the energy sector, building sector, and working lands sector”. I am sure that labor and civic organizations sector was not necessarily what the authors of the Climate Act had in mind.
I had been talking to Richard Ellenbogen about the CHPE announcement and the topic of jobs came up. Richard and I both critiqued the Clean Energy Industry Report that had been mentioned. He pointed out that out of the 165,000 employed on their list, 87% (124,000) work in “Energy Efficiency” (page 15), so that could include anyone that installs insulation. Those jobs existed before renewable energy was a thing. He used two different insulation installers on his house in 2004 and a different one on his factory in 2000. It appears to both of us that there is an opportunity to inflate numbers depending upon the classification of building contractors.
I dug a little deeper into the report and confirmed plenty of opportunities for NYSERDA to inflate numbers. I found out that they use something called “clean energy employment intensity” that are “used to identify the concentration, or intensity, of clean energy activities”. The claim that there are 165,000 employed in the clean energy sector (Figure 2 from the document page 12) “includes all workers that dedicate any amount of their labor hours or work week to clean energy goods and services. As such, an electrician who spends only a quarter of their work week installing or servicing solar panels would be counted as a clean energy worker”. For emphasis it does say any amount of their labor hours counts as a clean energy job.
My first thought was that they include the intensity-adjusted clean energy employment metric because even they admit that the 165,000 employed in the sector claim is a stretch when anyone who spends any amount of time is counted. Upon further review I am not convinced that is the case. The document states (page 16):
The metric weights each job according to how much time workers were reported to spend on clean energy activities: the categories include less than half of their labor hours, half to the majority of their labor hours, or all of their labor hours. These categories correspond with the following delineations: 0 to 49 percent of labor hours, 50 to 99 percent of labor hours, and 100 percent of labor hours.
The description goes on to say:
An increase in total employment would indicate that there are more workers in the labor market overall servicing clean energy technologies, while an increase in intensity adjusted employment indicates that these workers are dedicating a larger proportion of their work week and labor hours to clean energy-specific activities; this could be the result of increased policy support or financial incentives spurring market demand for clean energy goods and services. For instance, a traditional HVAC worker might have spent only a third of their work week installing or maintaining energy efficient HVAC technologies in 2016. If a state began offering rebates in 2017 for efficient heat pumps, that traditional HVAC worker would likely be spending more of their labor hours or work week installing high-efficiency heat pumps. This increase in activity per worker would not necessarily result in overall job growth in Figure 2 but would be captured as an increase in intensity-adjusted clean energy employment in Figure 8.
The last statement in this section leads me to believe that this metric is not supposed to address the dis-information that any time whatsoever spent on clean energy work qualifies the job to be a clean energy job. It says that an increase in activity per worker would not necessarily result in overall job growth in the total numbers. Instead, it “would be captured as an increase in intensity-adjusted clean energy employment”. What I had hoped that the State would do was to report the clean energy jobs as full-time equivalents using the fractional time spent. In other words, two employees that work 50% of the time on clean energy projects are equivalent to one full-time equivalent position. The fact that they don’t do it that way and instead conjure up an intensity adjustment metric shows, as Richard Ellenbogen explains, that while they are trying to do something to explain the employment opportunities “this looks more like a political document for the non-thinking”.
The document states that there is a full description of their methodology in Appendix A. However, there is no meat to that documentation. The appendix is titled Clean Energy Technology List. It only includes the following text:
A clean energy job is defined as any worker that is directly involved with the research, development, production, manufacture, distribution, sales, implementation, installation, or repair of components, goods, or services related to the following sectors of the clean energy economy: Renewable Electric Power Generation; Grid Modernization and Energy Storage; Energy Efficiency; Renewable Fuels; and Alternative Transportation. These jobs also include supporting services such as consulting, finance, tax, and legal services related to energy.
The remainder of the Appendix only lists sub-sector jobs for each of the sectors of the economy listed above as shown below. I believe that ay time spent on any job on the clean energy technology list qualifies the employee to be a clean-energy job holder.
According to the numbers, the clean energy industry jobs are an increase of 18,200 since 2016, 13,400 of those in “Energy Efficiency”. New York State employment is at 57% of 19.5 million people or about 11.1 million. The 165,000 is 1.4% of the state’s total workforce. The increase in what they call “Clean Energy Jobs” is 0.0012 or about 1/10 of 1% of the state workforce over the past five years.
The following figure from the report lists the industry sectors that had employment gains. Keep in mind that if a labor organization changes the job description for any staff to include weekly updates of renewable energy developments that counts as one of these jobs because the claimed jobs “includes all workers that dedicate any amount of their labor hours or work week to clean energy goods and services”. Moreover, I am not sure why any rational person would count jobs at a software publisher as a clean energy job.
Another area for misleading information is construction jobs. A New York Daily News article about the CHPE project states: “An agreement between the developer tasked with completing the line and New York State Building and Construction Trades means the project will lead to about 1,400 union jobs.” If one of the CHPE contractors was building a non-clean energy project but now sends his workers to build the transmission line I suspect they are counted as new clean-energy jobs. There are two issues. The first is that the construction jobs are temporary and this approach does not seem to take that into account. The second is that if the contractor goes to work on another non-clean energy project after this project ends but a year later puts them to work on a new clean-energy project I am sure the State will count those as new jobs.
Ellenbogen and I talked about the issue of finding people to work. We both have talked to contractors that told us they cannot find enough people to work. What does that say about the future increase in these numbers? To do what they want to do, they will have to increase that number to about 250,00 – 300,000, at least a third of that in Renewable Electric Power Generation and Grid Modernization. The increase in those two categories over the past five years is 3,300, so at the current rate of increase it will take 50 years to reach the number that they need. That is about 25 years after they expect to complete their plan.
Finally, there is one other aspect of the report that concerns me. The New York Daily News article about the CHPE project notes that the project will lead to about 1,400 union construction jobs. It will provide 1,250 MW or power to New York City. This report does an inadequate job addressing the loss of jobs from other New York State policies. For example, the shutdown of Indian Point meant the loss of over 1,000 permanent union jobs and 2,000 MW of New York City power. In other words, the unknown number of permanent additional jobs in the report numbers probably means that that there has been a net loss in New York due to the Indian Point shutdown and CHPE will not replace the loss of Indian Point capacity.
Whenever I have evaluated any component of the Climate Act, I have found that there is no acknowledgement that issues are more complicated, uncertain, and costly than portrayed by the State. Unfortunately, there is a bigger issue because there are instances where the documentation provided is misleading and inaccurate. In my opinion the Clean Energy Industry Report is misleading. It would be more appropriate to provide the impact of clean energy jobs as a function of full-time equivalents instead of counting clean energy jobs as any that “dedicate any amount of their labor hours or work week to clean energy goods and services.” In addition, the reporting of that metric is likely high because there is a bias towards more emphasis on clean energy goods and services. As it stands there is a clear bias towards higher numbers supporting the narratives of the Climate Act.