Employment in power sector declines, except for renewable generators

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According to the latest data available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as published on the website of the U.S. Energy Information Administration (eia), the electric power generation sector lost more than 5,800 jobs from January 2011 to June 2014, despite a gain of nearly 1,800 non-hydro jobs in the renewable energy sector.

The BLS data reflects only jobs in electric power generation, and does not include jobs associated with electric transmission and distribution systems. Also not counted are jobs involved in the construction of new facilities, processing or transportation of fuels, and behind-the-meter distributed generation installations and services (e.g., solar panel installers).

The overall decline in electric power generation jobs coincides with a period in which the United States has seen declining year-over-year electricity sales, driven by energy efficiency improvements and growth in distributed generation such as behind-the-meter rooftop solar, among other factors. Additionally, the growth in some types of non-hydro renewable generation, particularly wind and solar, brings relatively few ongoing operations and maintenance jobs.

Fossil fuels

Recent coal plant closures, though partially offset by increases in natural gas capacity, drove a net decline of 1,750 fossil fuel power generation jobs since 2011. While BLS does not break out the jobs category by fuel, the operations of the new natural gas power plants are less labor-intensive than those of the older coal plants that are being displaced. As compared to other power generation categories, fossil fuel plants are more geographically dispersed across the country, but the states that have the most fossil fuel jobs are: Texas, Michigan, Florida, Indiana, and Ohio. Fossil fuel jobs include employment at plants fueled by coal, natural gas, and petroleum.

Nuclear

Nuclear power facilities have lost more than 4,900 jobs since 2011. Most of the nuclear generation job losses have occurred since January 2013, and are attributable to reactor closures at three locations: Southern California Edison's San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station; Dominion's Kewaunee plant near Green Bay, Wisconsin; and Duke Energy's Crystal River plant in Florida. Additionally, Entergy announced it will close operations at its Vermont Yankee plant at the end of 2014, which will result in further job losses. South Carolina, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, New Jersey, and Illinois are the states with the most nuclear plants.

Renewables

BLS first provided separate data series for renewable generation job categories in 2011. All four categories of non-hydro renewables have seen gains in power generation jobs since 2011. Solar has led the way, with the number of jobs related to the operation of solar generation installations in the electric power sector more than tripling in that timeframe. Although wind jobs have grown at a slower rate than solar since 2011, increasing 16 percent, there are still more than twice as many wind jobs as solar jobs in the electric power sector.

Renewables jobs are more geographically concentrated than fossil fuel jobs, corresponding to the location of renewable generation capacity. California is home to the most solar, geothermal, and biomass jobs, and the second-most wind jobs behind Texas. Employment at hydroelectric generators fell 6 percent over this time, but it was still more than double that of all other non-hydro renewable generation employment.

 

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