California's Clean Energy Drive Is Earning It Tens Of Billions Of Dollars


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

Go, California! welcomia/Shutterstock

One of the most common misconceptions about clean energy is that it’s expensive and will harm the American economy. This isn’t just untrue, but it’s the exact opposite of what really happens when nations invest in solar and wind power. Even a modest expansion of both by 2050 would result in a net saving of $12.5 trillion to the global economy.

Despite the White House’s intransigence on the issue, plenty of American states and cities, both liberal and conservatively governed, recognize this as a fact. Investment in energy is at an all-time high – and nowhere is this truer than in California, which has boosted its economy by at least $14.2 billion since 2010.


The state, whose electrical grid is set to be 100 percent renewably powered by 2045, has long invested in clean energy – particularly since the 1980s. Certain counties have gone in harder in this respect on others, and a new nonpartisan report from researchers at the University of California Berkeley have zeroed in on three: Inland Empire, Riverside, and San Bernardino.

Since the start of the decade, wind and (in particular) solar power plants have proliferated across these three counties – enough to power 2.6 million new homes. The report points out that by just building and maintaining these plants, 41,000 new jobs were created, which created $9.1 billion in direct economic activity alone. Earlier reports have shown similar gains in other Californian counties.

In addition, the report looks at California’s cap-and-trade program, which just received a 10-year extension. This mechanism does two things: puts upper limits on the amount of carbon dioxide that companies produce, and sets up trade networks allowing organizations to buy and sell allowances for temporarily higher caps.

Larger organizations are usually able to slash greenhouse gas emissions more effectively than others. This means that they can sell their leftover allowances to other companies that are having more trouble.


This means there’s an economic incentive to cutting carbon emissions – something California has long recognized. The report reveals that between 2013 and 2016, the net economic benefit of this program was almost $26 million.


Lastly, the report looks at state subsidies for clean energy development. These are essentially tax breaks given to companies and counties to encourage them to build and use renewable energy. Even after the cost to taxpayers are taken into account, this produced an overall net benefit of 12,000 jobs and $1.7 billion.

Ultimately, clean energy brought 73,000 jobs to just three counties in the entirety of California. As a point of comparison, there are currently no more than 77,000 coal jobs across the entire United States right now. If you needed a clear example of how clean energy is thriving and coal is dying, you couldn’t really do much better than that.


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