Report: R.I. clean energy sector grows 3.7%

CLEAN ENERGY employment in Rhode Island increased 3.7 percent year over year from 2017 to 2018. / COURTESY OFFICE OF ENERGY RESOURCES
CLEAN ENERGY employment in Rhode Island increased 3.7 percent year over year from 2017 to 2018. / COURTESY OFFICE OF ENERGY RESOURCES

PROVIDENCE – Employment in the clean energy sector in Rode Island increased 3.7 percent year over year in 2018 to 15,866 workers, according to the Rhode Island Clean Energy Report 2018 released Friday.

The growth, from 15,305 workers in 2017, follows 11.1 percent growth from 2016 to 2017. Since the report’s inception in 2014, the sector has grown 72.1 percent.

In a statement accompanying the release of the report, Gov. Gina M. Raimondo highlighted the recent announcement of the Deepwater Wind LLC contract to build a 400-megawatt wind farm off the southern coast of Rhode Island near Martha’s Vineyard.

“I’m thrilled that we’re creating thousands of exciting jobs in green energy, but we’re just getting started,” said Governor Raimondo. “This spring, we selected Deepwater Wind to build an offshore wind farm big enough to power half the homes in Rhode Island. This project alone will create over 1,000 jobs, with a range from construction to engineering to manufacturing positions. Our work to aggressively pursue alternative energy and position ourselves as a leader in this industry will create thousands more jobs in the years to come.”

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The clean energy workforce was said to make up 3.3 percent of the state’s workers, primarily in the field of energy efficiency, which employed 9,338, but also by renewable and efficient heating and cooling firms, which employed 4,110 workers, renewable energy firms, which employed 2,114 in the state, and clean transportation, among others.

Providence County had the most clean-energy jobs in the state in 2018 at 9,287, followed by Kent County at 2,826 jobs and Washington County at 1,806 jobs. The sector employed 1,498 in Newport County and 450 in Bristol County.

The report noted that the renewable energy sector lost jobs in 2018, declining by 4.4 percent, attributed to a nation-wide slowdown in solar energy installation that is in some part related to tariffs on imported solar panels, as well as the state’s Renewable Energy Growth Small Scale program reaching its cap earlier than expected. The program enables customers to sell their generation output long-term at fixed prices.

The report said that the cap had some installers working out of state to avoid working on projects that will miss the REG deadline date due to the enactment of the generation cap for program enrollment.

The report also calls the state’s solar employment a “rare and avoidable disappointment,” but noted that it expects the industry to rebound.

Engineering, research and professional services in the clean energy sector experienced the largest employment growth in the state in 2018, which the report said was potentially attributable to the anticipation of the recently selected offshore, 50-turbine, 400-megawatt wind project to be built by Deepwater Wind.

The report also asserts that the state will achieve its 20,000 clean energy jobs initiative by 2020, with “continued commitment,” and the “right policy landscape.”

The report’s suggestions for attaining employment and clean power goals were to:

  • Support the offshore wind industry, including strategic partnerships with neighboring regions, and become a manufacturing and knowledge hub for future projects
  • Expand energy efficient retrofits and electric vehicle charging infrastructure
  • Provide additional solar industry support, including incentives, providing expanded financing options and the expansion of existing programs such as net metering or expanding the REG MW cap

Much of the data in the report came from the 2018 U.S. Energy and Employment Report, which collected data in the fourth quarter of 2017 for its 2018 report. Supplemental research was conducted for some state specific data. The report was conducted by BW Research Partnership, the R.I. Office of Energy Resources and the R.I. Commerce Corp.

Chris Bergenheim is the PBN web editor.