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Four rules for reporting on energy jobs

May 2, 2017

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There's plenty to write about jobs in the energy sector. (Wind-power Generator image by "kdj71190" via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)
There's plenty to write about jobs in the energy sector. (Wind-power Generator image by "kdj71190" via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain)

Whether it’s coming from President Trump or being pushed by a company’s PR team, there’s a popular topic in the energy sector that everyone enjoys talking about: jobs.

At some point or another, a story about jobs will cross your desk, whether it’s about the boom in solar and wind industries or the dwindling numbers in coal mines. There are plenty of stories to talk about, but it’s easy to miss the mark if you fail to include the proper context.

So whether you’re writing a short or starting to report an in-depth piece, here are four things to keep in mind when covering energy jobs:

Place news in the energy matrix

Solar and wind sectors saw impressive growth in 2016—25 percent and 32 percent, respectively. But these figures alone can lead to misconceptions about the industry.

Some readers may assume renewables provide a large share of the energy matrix. Others may dismiss their role by claiming the segments are small, so percentages appear outsized. Cite growth numbers in relation to the rest of the energy field to give readers a clearer understanding of where the industry is heading.

Electric power generation and fuel technology provided 1.9 million direct jobs in 2016, according to the Department of Energy’s U.S. Energy and Employment report released in January.

Traditional coal, oil and gas accounted for 55 percent, or 1.1 million of those jobs, according to the report. Low carbon emission sources, such as renewables and nuclear, accounted for 800,000 jobs.

When looking at employment by sub-technology, the DOE report shows that oil and petroleum provided the most jobs, with 515,518 workers. This was followed by solar, with 373,807 jobs, and natural gas, with 362,118 jobs.

So although traditional fossil fuels still employ the most energy workers, neither fossil fuels nor low-carbon emission sources dominate the matrix.

Location, location, location

Where are these jobs located? While solar and wind sectors saw large growth on a national scale, who is truly feeling the impact?

If you’re talking about solar energy, the growth is likely to be felt most in California. Wind is most profoundly noticeable in Texas. Before pressing “publish” on a story on renewables, make sure to note how your region is impacted—or how it’s not.

Where are these jobs coming from?

As previously noted, solar saw a 25 percent growth in 2016, which translated to 374,000 new jobs. But what exactly were those jobs? For the most part, they were in construction, the building and installation of the infrastructure that supports massive solar generation. That begs the question: Will this type of job growth be able to sustain itself?

What are these jobs paying?

What are all these new jobs paying? Are these good jobs that will allow people to support a family? Or are they jobs that only let people scrape by?

Knowing this is crucial if you’re going to compare renewable and fossil fuel job growth, as the pay for most entry level renewable jobs doesn’t compare to that of established workers in the fossil fuel industry.

Reporter’s Takeaway

• Place the job growth numbers in the wind and solar sectors in context with the entire energy grid. The growth percentages themselves don’t tell the complete story.

• Look at the types of jobs that are being created in renewables. If the bulk of growth in your region is in the construction of the infrastructure, what are the implications for long-term employment?

• See how paychecks for jobs in the renewable energy fields compare with jobs in the fossil fuel industry.

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