While many of America’s urban centers are booming with new employment opportunities, rural areas are still struggling to bounce back from the recession. Although these areas are plagued with poor employment opportunities and dwindling populations, they also find themselves in a unique position to take advantage of a growing industry with unlimited potential: renewable energy.
“Re-Power America’s Land” is a national initiative by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that aspires to transform polluted American properties into potential sources of renewable energy. Based on statistics from this past April, there are now 179 installations across 24 states, which vary in type: wind, biomass, hydro and geothermal projects. Some of the most common installations, though, are the solar panels, which make up 86.36% of the total number of installations.
There are several economic advantages to such projects. The Scituate Solar Project in Massachusetts won a “Photovoltaic Project of Distinction” at the PV America East Conference in 2014, serves as an example. The former 29 acre landfill was covered with a layer of soil where 10,560 panels were installed, producing 3.825 kWh million annually. This is the equivalent of the average power needed to sustain about 333 American households for an entire year. Massachusetts is now known as a state pioneering in renewable energy, proving to be effective not only economically, but also in terms of contributing to the community where the installation was built. Three thousand jobs were created within the span of the first year, stimulating the economy in the installation areas.
This job creation potential is certainly not limited to Massachusetts. The map below indicates high potential for solar installations that are measured by Solar Thermal Energy and Solar Photovoltaic Energy, basically the measurement of thermal energy from sunlight and its potential to convert into electricity.
As can be seen on the map, multiple areas in the US with higher unemployment rates than the national average (4.9%) have great potential to become solar power sites, including states like Oregon (5.2%), California (6.3%), and West Virginia (7%). These states have specific sectors that contribute to their economies that have fallen on hard times, construction in Oregon, agriculture in West Virginia, as well as the formation of small businesses in California. The installation of renewable energy sources where they are found suitable in these states could stimulate their economic flow by employing local workers, allowing them to generate household income, and lowering the price of energy.
Moving forward, policy changes in states could create incentives for corporations to engage in the solar power industry. States that have created incentives have brought in more jobs than those that have not, filling the unemployment gap and invigorating their economies.