Spring 2014

Energy Jobs: Diverse Solutions for Diverse Communities

By Michael D. Reed, NBCSL Policy Analyst serves as a Policy Analyst for NBCSL. Prior to joining NBCSL, Mr. Reed worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures where he managed policy development, lobbying, and federal affairs on education, labor, and trade issues. Mr. Reed’s previous government experience includes serving as an aide in the U.S. Senate for four years and as an aide in the New Jersey Governor’s Office.
Energy Jobs: Diverse Solutions for Diverse Communities
Over the past decade, improvements in development and refinement have contributed to the energy sector attaining the nation’s fastest growth in job creation.1 According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, jobs in the oil and gas industries have outpaced all others in the private sector.2 However, the success in the energy sector is not limited just to fossil fuels. The expansion of renewable energy – such as solar, wind, and biomass – has also played a major part in increasing energy jobs. The employment growth rate for solar jobs is 10 times the national average,3 and most are well-paying jobs with salaries above a living wage.

Leaders across the energy spectrum have touted the potential positive impact that energy development could have on minorities. In December 2012, the American Petroleum Institute released a report projecting that more than one-third of all new jobs in oil and natural gas could be filled by Black and Hispanic Americans through 2030.4

Despite this potential for communities of color to take full advantage of the energy sector’s economic benefits, African Americans currently hold about 8% of all energy jobs.5 In all STEM fields, African Americans, Latinos, and American Indians hold only 9% of STEM jobs, though they comprise 24% of the U.S. workforce. To that end, in September 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy launched the Minorities in Energy Initiative, which provides support and recommendations for improvement.

Fortunately, there are several areas that Black state legislators can act on to take advantage of the positive economic and community benefits of energy development. These steps involve 1) supporting local development, 2) improving energy-related education, and 3) assisting minority-owned businesses.

Supporting Local Development: Maximizing the Best Energy Sources Available

When it comes to energy, it is important for state legislators to balance the immediate needs of the community with national and global trends. Differences in available natural resources, weather and climate patterns, workforce demographics, and financing options across the country make any one-size-fits-all solution virtually impossible, but shared concerns do arise. These include the need for job creation, affordability, and environmental protections. To address these concerns, lawmakers have taken different steps to increase employment and subsequent economic growth.

State legislators in sun-soaked California have been strong adopters of solar energy technology. Assemblyman and Energy Committee Chairman, Steven Bradford introduced the Equitable Access to Solar Energy Act in 2013 (signed into law in October 2013) to provide solar energy assistance for low-income households in the state. “My bill makes it easier for all Californians, regardless of income level, to reap not just the financial benefits of solar, but also to take part in job training in this growing industry,” remarked Assemblyman Bradford about the bill. “That will have a lasting impact on people’s lives and our economy.”

The law extends the California’s Single Family Affordable Solar Housing (SASH) and the Multifamily Affordable Solar Housing (MASH) programs until 2021. SASH and MASH provide subsidies for low-and moderate-income households to assist them with installing solar panels on residences. The California residents with the lowest incomes are eligible for full subsidies under the program. The bill also supports job training and hands-on volunteer opportunities in the field through a local non-profit solar installation organization. The bill requires that all manufacturing and installation projects funded through the bill incorporate a job training component.  Programs like SASH and MASH have contributed to California’s national leadership in solar energy. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, California ranks first nationally with 1.045 megawatts of solar energy capacity installed and $2.6 billion in investment in the field in 2012. The state currently has more than 1600 solar companies that employ over 43,700 workers.

Two thousand miles east in Mississippi, local leaders have embarked on a more traditional energy path. The Mississippi Power Company began construction on a power plant in Kemper County in 2010. It is expected to be fully operational this year. The Kemper County facility is one of a handful in the world to utilize Transport Reactor Integrated Gasifier (TRIG) technology, which converts coal to cleaner burning natural gas. The facility is estimated to create more than 12,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent facility jobs generating $75 million in state and local tax revenue.  The facility has contracted with 22 minority-owned businesses for $96.7 million in business opportunities.

NBCSL member, State Senator Sampson Jackson has lauded the facility as an engine for job creation and as lowering energy costs in Kemper County. According to Senator Sampson, “The benefits to the African-American community in Kemper County and the Mississippi Power service area have been extensive—from providing services to the majority-minority county, to additional revenue, to job training, to contracts at the plant, to planning for our children’s future.”

Improving Energy-related Education: Training the Next Generation

To ensure that the next wave of energy jobs stays in the United States, it is important for lawmakers to support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education in all levels of schooling. In Washington State, NBCSL member Representative Roger Freeman cosponsored HB 1872 to improve STEM outcomes in K-12 Education. Enacted in 2013, the law invests public funding in innovative, evidence-based strategies and aligns relevant state agencies so they can collaborate on best practices.

Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) also play a critical role in STEM education as they award a significant number of degrees to Black students in STEM areas. According to the National Science Foundation’s National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 33 percent of recent African-American STEM PhDs received their undergraduate degrees from HBCUs, and eight of the top ten colleges whose African-American graduates went on to get PhDs in science were HBCUs.6

Notwithstanding the successes of HBCUs, Black students have been historically underrepresented in STEM and energy jobs. Furthermore, HBCUs still face significant issues such as state underfunding and limited resources that threaten their ability to train a full generation of energy leaders of color. To bridge the gap, the White House Initiative on HBCUs and the United Negro College Fund partnered last year to establish the HBCU Startup and Innovation Initiative, linking HBCU students and faculty with STEM innovators, business leaders, and venture capitalists.

Educational investments have been central to energy development in Kemper County, MS. Local lawmakers have worked with Mississippi Power and the American Association of Blacks in Energy to improve education opportunities through the facility, by connecting local two-year and four-year higher educational institutions with business leaders to establish apprenticeships, skills development, and job training. Mississippi Power has committed to providing several full academic scholarships to minority students in energy-related fields such as computer science, chemistry, and mechanical engineering.

Assisting Minority-Owned Businesses: Entrepreneurship for All

States can take steps to support business climates that encourage economic opportunities for small businesses, particularly those owned by minorities. Minority small business owners are the most likely to hire people of color, to place their businesses in communities of color, and to export to another country. On the federal level, the U.S. Department of Energy created the Bank Deposit Financial Assistance Program (BDFAP). BADFAP is geared toward bolstering access to capital for minority-and-women owned small businesses (MWBEs) in the energy field. The program invests in minority-owned banks to assist them in making loans to MWBEs.


No one solution will eliminate issues surrounding energy production or job creation, but community-tailored solutions across a range of areas have proven to increase public interest and spur sustainable economic and community development. When done correctly, history shows investing in educational achievement, strong business climates, and low-income communities lead to more jobs, greater economic security, and critical development in communities of color.

  1. Hess, A. E.M. (2013, September 2). 10 fastest growing jobs in the USA. http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/business/2013/09/02/10-fastest-growing-jobs-in-usa/2750169/
  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration Independent Statistics & Analysis Oil and gas industry employment growing much faster than total private sector employment, http://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.cfm?id=12451 (2013)
  3. The Solar Foundations “2013 National Solar Jobs Census.” http://thesolarfoundation.org/research/national-solar-jobs-census-2013 (2014)
  4. The American Petroleum Institute, Employment Outlook for African Americans and Latinos in the Upstream Oil and Natural Gas Industry. http://www.api.org/policy-and-issues/policy-items/jobs/employment-outlook-for-african-americans-and-latinos-in-oil-natural-gas-industry (2012)
  5. American Association on Blacks in Energy, Energy, Economics, and the Environment: Effects on African Americans. http://www.aabe.org/docs/whitepapers/docs/1-State-of-Energy-in-Black-America-Report.pdf (2011)
  6. National Science Foundation, Women, Minorities, and Persons with Disabilities in Science and Engineeringhttp://www.nsf.gov/statistics/wmpd/2013/start.cfm?CFID=14616915&CFTOKEN=86058937&jsessionid=f0302dc87fd144f272293467345be3d704f7 (2013)

NBCSL Policy Analyst serves as a Policy Analyst for NBCSL. Prior to joining NBCSL, Mr. Reed worked for the National Conference of State Legislatures where he managed policy development, lobbying, and federal affairs on education, labor, and trade issues. Mr. Reed’s previous government experience includes serving as an aide in the U.S. Senate for four years and as an aide in the New Jersey Governor’s Office.

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