California’s Secret To Green Jobs And A Thriving Clean Economy? It’s Policy.

Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill requiring California utilities to get a third of their power from renewable sources, the country's most aggressive clean energy standard (AP Photo)

By Jorge Madrid via EDF

California has a thriving clean economy. In fact, the Golden State boasted more green jobs in clean energy and transportation last year than the other top 4 states combined, according to a new report by Environmental Entrepreneurs.

Here are some more highlights:

Innovation: The state is a hub for clean energy innovation. Clean technology patents grew by 26 percent in the past 2 years, outpacing the country and the rest of the world. It is the “undisputed leader in solar technology patents” according to, with totals greater than the cumulative solar patents of the next eight highest states.

Energy Generation: Total renewable energy generation has grown 28 percent between 2007 and 2011 and wind energy has doubled during this same period. Earlier this month, the state broke its own record for solar power — over 15,394 megawatt-hours of power to the grid, enough for every Californian to keep a 100-watt bulb lit for four hours. Not to be outdone, the state also surpassed 4-gigawatts of wind power — similar to what California’s two nuclear plants can churn out at full power, or enough to momentarily supply over 2.5 million homes.

Jobs: Green jobs are growing four times faster than the rate of all other jobs nationwide, with the majority happening in California according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. EDF’s analysis of California’s clean economy finds that jobs in core sectors like energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean transportation, and advanced storage and materials have not only remained resilient during the worst of the Great Recession (2008-2010), they outpaced all other job growth and grew 109 percent from 1995 to 2010.

Green jobs are also good jobs in California. They are diverse, across a wide range of education-level and skills, and almost half of all jobs in the clean economy don’t require a college degree according to the Brookings Institution. On average, green jobs offer a higher median wage and career advancement opportunities. An analysis by Philip Romero, the former Dean of CSU Los Angeles College of Business and Economics finds that “workers command wages with a 50-to-100 percent premium over the average job,” and estimates that the overall clean economy will grow “by at least 60-to-100 percent” by the late 2030’s.

Something exciting is happening in California, and at this point you may be wondering what our secret is.

It’s policy. California boasts a legacy of innovation stemming from the state’s leadership in environmental policy — it happens here first and it transforms markets. It is evidenced in everything from improved tailpipe emission standards and higher performing gas mileage in cars, greater efficiency in household appliances, and greener building practices that has transformed the sector and created hundreds of billions of dollars in economic value. All these innovations started with policy.

I believe good stuff can happen when you set clear policies that signal markets and influence behaviors. There is a reason why 24 percent of hybrid and 32 percent of electric vehicles in the US are registered in California: good policy that led to better cars and consumers who could see the improvement to their bottom line at the gas pump. California leads in renewable energy, efficiency, and clean transportation in strong part because of strong policies like AB 32 which puts a price on carbon and sets a statewide Renewable Portfolio Standard, providing a clear market signal for greater investment in clean technology.

And by the way, someone local has to install all those solar panels and wind turbines, weatherize all those homes, as well as maintain and operate all those buses and rail cars — good jobs in the clean economy follow smart policy.

It turns out that California’s “secret” to growing green jobs and a thriving clean economy is not so secret at all… it’s good policy.

— Jorge Madrid is a Climate and Air Fellow at the Environmental Defense Fund. This piece is reposted with permission of the author.

6 Responses to California’s Secret To Green Jobs And A Thriving Clean Economy? It’s Policy.

  1. Paul Klinkman says:

    First off, I just got myself a fundamental daylighting patent issued last week, #8,408,199. My first advice to inventors, including people interested in community-based companies, is to get it in writing, then occupy the energy business.

    I’m based in a solar grapes of wrath state. This type of state sometimes comes out with a one or two year program to develop local green jobs, a perfectly intelligent idea. Then they shut the program down two years after tempting a few people to put their careers on the line for the state. Then these jilted people, out on a limb, have to cut ties and move to another state which is currently offering green jobs help.

    Basically, oil companies complain to each state’s legislature that solar might someday touch its little finger to their precious energy monopoly, and the legislators all nod yes, this wasn’t what we bargained for and sorry to offend your highness. California gets credit for not yanking the rug from underneath fledgling green developers every few years without fail.

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Perhaps California ought to secede from the Union.

  3. Mulga,

    I lived in California for 35 years before relocating to Oregon, and believe me, the idea of seceding has occurred to many Californians. In fact, there is even a book about it, and if you haven’t come across it, you should find a copy because it’s a hippie, ecotopian classic. Indeed, it’s called “Ecotopia,” by Ernest Callenbbach who, unfortunately, died a couple of years back. (I knew him, and he’s the type of guy who should live forever.)

    But the situation is slightly more complicated than you might realize from down under. Most of the secession talk was about northern California splitting off from southern California — that is, hip, aware and earthy San Francisco and everything north to the Oregon border splitting from the suburban nightmare called L.A. (Ecotopia the novel had northern California, Oregon and Washington splitting off from the rest of the U.S. )

    In addition to all this talk, there actually is a small area of northern California that considers itself an independent nation — sorry I can’t remember the name right now (help, anybody?).

    However, the last time secession was tried here, in 1860, it got pretty bloody. So it’s probably better if California continues to set the progressive tone that drags the rest of the U.S., kicking and screaming, into the second half of the twentieth century.

  4. riverat says:

    I think the name you’re looking for is the State of Jefferson. Along with parts of northern California parts of southern Oregon too.

  5. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    We had a whacko in West Australia who seceded forty years or so ago. He styled himself ‘Prince Leonard I of the Hutt River Principality’ or some such baloney (he should have met Baron Monckhausen). I believe that he has tried to establish the ‘Principality’ (briefly a ‘Kingdom’)as some sort of tax haven. I doubt that it is an Ecotopia.

  6. Daniel Coffey says:

    Focusing on the article, I want to compliment the author for his efforts, but also note that we are not acting fast enough. There are too many “good jobs” union objections to renewable energy projects and too much focus on solar-on-rooftop, which is far more expensive and makes electrification of transportation a push instead of a no-brainer. We absolutely must electrify transportation using pluggable hybrids and de-carbonize electricity production to the maximum extent possible as fast as possible. By the way, markets will not get it done, either sufficiently or to the degree necessary. Sad.