The renewable energy sector is a $2 billion industry with an estimated 16,800 jobs created in 2011, according to a new study conducted by Elliot D. Pollack & Company. The report was commissioned by Pinal Partnership with support from Arizona Forward and was released at the Renewable Energy Economic Summit & Conference hosted by both organizations last week. More than 200 industry professionals attended this sold-out conference held in Casa Grande.
Renewable energy is still a small part of the overall economy in Arizona, which totals 1.7 million jobs in the Phoenix area alone. However, to put this in perspective consider the copper industry — one of the state’s original five Cs — which generates only 9,000 jobs with 70 percent of the country’s copper produced in Arizona. Another positive is that recent job growth in the renewable energy industry has helped replace lost construction jobs.
Public policy, energy efficiency, untapped renewables and the future role of solar in Arizona’s economy were among the other topics addressed by four different panel sessions featuring industry experts. They noted that while Arizona has some of the best clean energy resources in the nation, we are still behind other states in harnessing new energy development.
Regulatory uncertainties, global competition, rapid changes in technology, along with financing, siting and transmission issues are all challenges the industry faces. Panelists suggested that we must work together to maintain a reasonable level of support for solar and renewable energy technologies both through incentives and policy.
In order to continue to grow the renewable energy sector, the Pollack report recommends Arizona become more involved in the manufacturing of components and products to export to places like California where much of the installation activity is happening. Arizona has less regulatory intrusion and a much lower manufacturing cost base than its West Coast neighbors.
What’s promising is that with leadership at the federal, state and local levels, we can expand the renewable energy sector and create new jobs while enhancing our environmental quality. Public and private sectors must work together to identify and foster long-term policy solutions. The Grand Canyon state is uniquely poised to be a leader in clean energy, which will benefit the economy, communities and environment.