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New Energy Jobs – The Cure for West Virginia’s Youth Drain

In the last two decades, West Virginia’s story has been one of declining population, particularly young people of working-age, and sluggish job growth. Our representation in Congress recently dropped from three Representatives to two because of this population loss.  During this same period our economy has sputtered.

Between 2010 and 2020, West Virginia lost a higher percentage of its residents than any other state in the nation, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. In that span, the state lost about 59,000 people, or 3.2% of its population. That rate of decline has slowed, but our population continues to shrink. Between April 1, 2020 and July 1, 2023, the population shrank 1.3% and stood at 1.77 million at that last date.

But there is hope and it comes in the form of jobs made possible through the Biden Administration’s effort to promote clean, renewable energy. West Virginia has already gained an impressive number of new clean energy jobs and stands to gain even more if our state government ceases to support and subsidize coal at every opportunity.

Nationally, clean energy jobs grew 3.9% in 2022, adding 114,000 jobs. Clean energy technologies, such as solar and wind, accounted for over 21,000 jobs, and jobs related to zero emissions vehicles added over 38,000 jobs. Women make up more than half of the new jobs in clean energy and 30% of the energy workforce is under the age of 30.

In 2022, West Virginia added 6,975 new energy jobs, a 19% increase. But nearly all of these new jobs were in the transmission, distribution and storage of electricity, not in the manufacture of zero-emissions vehicles or solar panels, and not in the installation of solar and wind energy.

Neighboring states benefit from the clean energy revolution in other ways. In Maryland, many clean energy positions earn higher wages compared to statewide averages, particularly in the entry-level positions, where clean energy electricians, plumbers, iron and steel workers, and HVAC mechanics earn upwards of 60% more than the average entry-level worker in the same trade in Maryland.

In Ohio, the number of clean jobs available is outstripping the general growth in employment. While statewide job growth in 2022 was 2.1%, clean job growth was over double the rate at 4.6%. The fastest-growing clean job subsectors were clean vehicles (13.0%), storage and grid (7.7%), and renewable energy (6.7%). Each of these grew three times faster or more than statewide employment.

Polling conducted by Conservation West Virginia in May 2024 showed that young voters are very interested in new clean energy jobs to keep young people in the state. They want to stay here and to preserve our natural environment for future generations. Significantly, these young voters are frustrated at West Virginia politicians who are beholden to old energy industries and block the development of renewables.

Isn’t it time to bring new energy to Charleston?