Report: Renewable Energy Growing R.I. Jobs

By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff

The renewable-energy sector is booming in Rhode Island. It’s also ethnically and racially diverse, but doesn’t have many female employees.

According to the new state-sponsored Rhode Island Clean Energy 2015 Industry Report, job growth increased by 613 jobs, or 6.6 percent, between April 1, 2014 and April 1, 2015. The spike handily beat the less than 1 percent job increase across Rhode Island during the same period.

Jobs are expected to jump 17 percent next year, adding 1,600 jobs for a total of nearly 11,500 jobs in the sector. Most firms also say they are having a hard time finding qualified and experienced employees to fill positions. Most of the jobs are installation, maintenance and repair oriented, and pay between $24 and $26 an hour.

The demographics show that new hires in Rhode Island’s renewable-energy sector are 37 percent ethnic or racial minorities, while new hires in Massachusetts are 22 percent racial and ethnic minorities. New hires are 21 percent women in Rhode Island and 26 percent women in Massachusetts. Women account for almost half of the U.S. workforce.

It’s a great field for first-time employees, as 44 percent of new hires were entry-level employees. Thirty-eight percent of employees have a high-school diploma or GED. More than half of the new hires graduated from high school and have a post-secondary certificate or associate’s degree. About 35 percent are college graduates, and 13 percent have graduate degrees.

The state credits the growth to its Renewable Energy Fund grant program, its fixed-pricing electric purchase contracts for wind and solar and energy-efficiency incentives as drivers for the growth.
The sector includes wind and solar power, air and ground-source heat pumps, energy-efficiency lighting and building materials, electric vehicles, smart-grid technology and energy storage.

Here are more statistics from the 27-page energy report:

9,832 employees work for 1,295 businesses.

61 percent of companies have five or fewer workers.

Only 24 percent of the companies get 100 percent of their revenue from their renewable-energy work.

72 percent of the businesses said financial incentives have the greatest impact on business.

Rhode Island is ranked third nationally for its energy-efficiency programs.

The renewable-energy sector accounts for 2.1 percent of all jobs in Rhode Island. The state’s two largest industries are health care (16.9 percent) and tourism (11.5 percent). By comparison, those industries grew by less than 1 percent during the same 12-month period.

As an overall percentage of jobs in the sector, Rhode Island is fourth behind, Vermont, California and Massachusetts.

48 percent of employers say the advantages of working in Rhode Island include its size, location and networking opportunities.

19.4 percent of employers reported that the high cost of doing business as the greatest disadvantage to working in the state.

35.5 percent said high taxes are the biggest barrier to business.