Renewable Energy and Workforce Development

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By Edward Stinson III, Staff Writer


Renewable energy has been a source of significant controversy in the United States. Along partisan lines, renewable energy exists as a wedge issue in both national and state politics. Meanwhile, courts have taken a gradual approach toward constructing a basis that may instruct a pathway forward for clean energy.

This year, Pennsylvania courts have ruled on climate change issues that bear important implications for renewable energy. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court furnished protections for gas drillers from certain liability related to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)[1]. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court also acknowledged the rule of capture as it relates to fracking.[2] The Court held that developers who use hydraulic fracturing may rely on pressure differentials to drain oil and gas from under another’s property.  Pennsylvania court decisions hint at the Court’s deference to the fossil fuel industry. However, the foregoing rulings signal efforts of the Court’s willingness to confront climate change litigation. Experts predict, “more climate litigation is going to be playing out in the state courts.”[3]

Simultaneously, federal courts are weighing in on climate change related litigation. In February 2020, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit enforced $35 million in penalties and disgorgement against a Pennsylvania-based hedge fund over alleged unlawful manipulation of a wholesale electricity market.[4] The Court held that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s cause of action was not time barred. In March 2020, the Fourth Circuit rejected Chevron Corp.’s argument that their case belonged in federal court under the doctrine of “federal officer removal” because the company was at times working at the government’s behest.[5] Other federal courts have been reticent to, “weigh in on the merits of litigation seeking to address and combat climate change.”[6]

Legislative support for renewable energy has outpaced judicial support for renewable energy, but not by much. In September, the U.S. Department of Labor announced $29 million in grants to fund the Workforce Opportunities for Rural Communities (WORC) in Erie, Pennsylvania.[7] The University of Pittsburgh was awarded $1 million dollars in WORC grant funding “to train workers in northwestern Pennsylvania to fill critical manufacturing roles.”[8] Experts promulgate the significance of integrating renewable energy into the grid, despite some lag from both legislative and judiciary officials.[9]

The threat of renewable energy jobs diminishing the fossil fuel industry is the cause of controversy among politicians, workers, and industry officials. The main concern for fossil fuel industry workers relates to the loss of employment renewable energy growth presents. One example of this is the Shell ethane processing, otherwise known as the ‘cracker’ plant, in Beaver County. The project predicted that it would create between 10,000 and 20,000 permanent jobs.”[10] The job estimates drew criticism for its lofty projections. Job projections were based on a study conducted by the American Chemistry Council and revealed that just 400 to 600 people would be employed at the Shell plant itself.[11] Fossil fuel projects that fail to deliver on job creation have encouraged investment in renewable energy job development.

According to expert reports, the threat that renewable energy poses to employment loss in Pennsylvania is mixed11. Job growth in clean energy has been gradual, representing just 1.6 percent of Pennsylvania jobs in 2019, but employment in the industry continues to grow. From 2018 to 2019, seven percent of all new jobs in Pennsylvania came for clean energy[12]. Between 2017 and 2019, clean energy grew faster than the overall statewide labor market with clean energy businesses creating jobs at an 8.7 percent growth rate.[13]

One potential compromise between renewable energy and fossil fuels exists through the possible transferability of job skills. The core competencies in demand to meet energy-sector educational needs include, “content knowledge of the industry as well as transferable hands-on skills.”[14] These skills range from general STEM background knowledge to specialized knowledge of particular regions.[15]

Altogether rural communities may be positioned to suffer the lion’s share of a transfer to renewable energy. Strategic education programs and workforce training could help mend the divide as courts and legislators expand support for renewable energy.


[2] Id.

[3] Id.


[5] Id.

[6] Id.


[8]  Id.





[13] Id.

[14] Id.

[15] file:///C:/Users/stinsone/Downloads/Career%20Opportunities%20in%20Energy.pdf


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