More job creation potential in clean energy than in oil and gas

Written by Joan McFarland on August 21, 2013

energy jobsGovernment leaders and a number of other pundits are telling us that New Brunswick needs the shale gas industry and the West-East pipeline ‘for the sake of the economy’, particularly in regard to the province’s serious unemployment problems. They are saying, basically, that ‘there is no alternative’ vis-à-vis the economy even while admitting that both of these fossil fuel projects pose risks to the environment and bring on climate change.

The position that there is no alternative for the economy ignores a number of studies done in the last few years showing that investment in a green economy- e.g. in alternative energy, energy efficiency and low carbon transportation – is a far better engine of job creation than the oil and gas industry. All of these studies are available online.

A 2012 study by BlueGreen Canada entitled, More Bang for Our Buck, found that for every two jobs created in oil and gas, fifteen jobs could be created in clean energy. An earlier study (2010) also by BlueGreen Canada, Falling Behind: Canada’s Lost Clean Energy Jobs, concluded that if Canada had matched, on a per person basis, the spending on renewable energy arising out of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 66,000 (well paying) jobs could have been created in this country.

Even closer to home, there was an important study published in May 2012 by Environment Northeast (ENE). The study, entitled Energy Efficiency: Engine of Growth in Eastern Canada, calculated potential macroeconomic effects of expanded energy efficiency programs for the region as a whole and for each province individually. In terms of job creation in New Brunswick, over a twenty-eight year period, the study found that investment in energy efficiency programs alone (e.g. not even including new clean energy)could drive the creation of between 10,700 and 24,800 jobs years of employment in the province. The low estimate, 10,700 job years, is based on using just some of the potential of energy efficiency for job creation, while the high estimate, 24,800 job years, is based on using the maximum such potential.

The recent elimination of two energy efficiency programs at Efficiency New Brunswick flies in the face of the message of the ENE study. The message of the ENE study is that energy efficiency programs, in addition to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, are an investment in job creation for the province. Instead, it would seem, the programs were being seen merely as a cost which, if cut, would contribute towards the improvement of the province’s fiscal situation.

Each of the studies described above is based, in approach and methodology, on a 2008 University of Massachusetts study, Green Recovery: A New Program to Create Good Jobs and Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy. Green Recovery showed the potential of green job creation for the recovery of the US economy after the 2008 financial crisis. Six key strategies were identified: retrofitting buildings, expanding mass transit and freight rail, constructing smart energy grids, production of wind power, production of solar power and production of next generation biofuels. With an investment of $100 billion in these strategies, the study estimated that two million jobs could be created over a two year period which offered a major contribution to the recovery of the US economy.

In conclusion, there is something missing in the conversation about New Brunswick’s employment challenges. Not all projects offer equal job creation potential. In fact, the projects that are currently being touted offer relatively low job creation potential. Hopefully, when attention is brought to studies which address the question of the job creation potential of various strategies and when the hoopla around the pipeline and shale gas has subsided, public policy can be turned to the greater potential of clean energy and energy efficiency.

Joan McFarland, Dept. of Economics, St. Thomas University and the Atlantic provinces’ member of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council research project, “Work in a Warming World.”

A version of this commentary first appeared in the Telegraph-Journal on May 21, 2013.

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