Oregon Renewable Energy Trends

By Oregon Employment Department

Oregon’s Renewable Energy Production and Generation Sector – as identified by the Oregon Green Jobs Council – includes firms that produce renewable energy from solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, wave, bioenergy, small-hydro, and biofuels technologies.

In fact, more than 200 firms throughout Oregon produce renewable energy. Many of the firms in this sector use byproducts created early in their manufacturing cycle, such as wood scrap from sawing logs, to create energy or heat that is used later in their manufacturing process – to dry cut lumber in kilns for example. Many public utilities and waste disposal facilities are capable of generating renewable energy as well.

This analysis, although it discusses employees, is not a study of green jobs (those jobs with specific duties related to the production of renewable energy) but a study of all employees at businesses that generate renewable energy. For the purpose of this analysis only those firms identified as producing renewable energy eligible for Oregon’s Renewable Portfolio Standard by the Oregon Department of Energy have been included.

Employment Trends

The Oregon Employment Department has employment data for 13 firms that produce electricity from renewable sources in Oregon. Half of the firms are in the utilities sector, while most others are identified as manufacturers or management firms which produce renewable energy as a byproduct of – or in addition to – their normal business operations.

Employment in this sector totaled 11,040 in the third quarter of 2009, a decrease of 8.8 percent (1,069 jobs) from the third quarter of 2004. Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), a federal agency included in this sector, grew by 100 jobs over the five-year period. Non-federal employment in the renewable energy generation sector totaled 9,640 jobs in the third quarter of 2009, down from 10,809 jobs in the third quarter of 2004 (-10.8%).

The significant downward employment trend at firms producing renewable electricity is, in large part, due to declining employment in wood products and paper manufacturing. Broader economic trends have also impacted the firms involved in this sector. The decrease in employment is likely not due to the fact that these firms produce renewable energy.

In order to examine trends in wages and hours of employees in greater detail, only non-federal employment will be discussed for the remainder of this analysis.

Wage Trends

Unemployment Insurance wage records show that 9,846 individuals were on the payroll of non-federal entities producing electricity from renewable sources in the third quarter of 2009.

There was a 5.7 percent decrease in the number of wage records at renewable energy firms from the third quarter of 2008 to the third quarter of 2009 (Table 1). The sector seemed to perform better than all non-federal employers. In fact, total wages in renewable energy firms decreased only slightly over the one-year period, compared to a decrease of 7.2 percent for all non-federal employees.

Total wages paid at firms in the renewable energy sector during the third quarter of 2009 were near $171 million, roughly 1.1 percent of the total non-federal wages ($15.3 billion) paid during the period in Oregon.

In general, a larger share of employees working in the renewable energy sector earned high wages compared to all non-federal employment during the quarter (Graph 1). Within the sector a full 50 percent of employees earned at least $30 per hour, compared to 21 percent for all non-federal employees.

Table 1
12-Month Percent Change in Count of Records, Total Wages, and Average Wage,
Employees Total Wages Average Wage
Renewable Energy -5.7% -0.9% 5.0%
Total Non-Federal -7.3% -7.2% 0.1%
Source: Unemployment Insurance Wage Records
Graph 1

Distribution of jobs by wage category renewable energy sector and total non-fed

Hour Trends

In the third quarter of 2009 the median number of hours worked for renewable energy firm employees was 517 hours, which was an increase of 20 hours since the third quarter of 2004.

Ninety-seven percent of employees at businesses producing renewable energy worked at least 200 hours during the third quarter of 2009, while 94 percent worked more than 350 hours (typically considered “full time”). In contrast, only 79 percent of all non-federal employees worked more than 200 hours while 65 percent worked more than 350 hours during the quarter.

Employees who worked 200 or more hours in the renewable energy sector during the third quarter of 2009 experienced a 1.3 percent decline in their mean wage and a 4.4 percent increase in their median wage compared to the same quarter in 2008 (Table 2). This change indicates that a significant portion of the sector’s job loss over the year was concentrated in lower paying positions – increasing the median wage. At the same time, high paid employees may have experienced reductions in their work hours, or a few very high paid staff may have been laid off – putting downward pressure on the mean wage. However, both the mean and median wage increased for employees working at least 350 hours during the quarter, indicating that the majority of wage and hour reductions were likely aimed at part-time staff.

Table 2
Distribution of Employment and Median Wage

by Employer Size Class, 2009Q3

Renewable Energy Total Non-Federal
Employment Wage Employment Wage
Under 5 employees 0.1% $34.06 5.6% $15.32
5 – 9 employees 6.6% $14.52
10 – 19 employees 8.8% $14.09
20 – 49 employees 0.3% $30.03 12.8% $14.69
50 – 99 employees 0.6% $30.04 9.9% $15.52
100 – 249 employees 13.6% $15.55
250 – 499 employees 7.0% $21.40 10.1% $15.77
500 or more employees 92.0% $30.39 32.5% $19.87
Source: Unemployment Insurance Wage Records

Worker Trends

In an attempt to identify the career paths of individuals employed within the renewable energy sector, each individual employed in the sector during the third quarter of 2009 was tracked back in time. Of the 9,846 individuals, 55 percent worked within the same industry since the first quarter of 2001, while 45 percent worked in a different industry during the period.

Fewer than 1 percent of the employees at firms producing renewable energy did not hold a job in Oregon between the first quarter of 2001 and the second quarter of 2008. However, 14 percent of the employees were not employed in the third quarter of 2004. These two facts lead to three possible conclusions about the workforce. First, it is probable that any recent graduates currently employed in the sector worked before or during college – recent graduates may account for those individuals that had worked in retail trade and leisure and hospitality prior to working in the renewable energy sector. Second, it appears that very few individuals now working in the sector moved to Oregon within the eight-year time period. Finally, a small number of individuals who were unemployed as a result of the 2001 recession may have found employment in the renewable energy sector before the third quarter of 2009.

Some evidence suggests that firms in the renewable energy sector have moved toward using staffing firms to provide a more flexible workforce. When companies shift their employment to staffing firms the measured employment at companies producing renewable energy decreases even though the total employment related to those business activities remains constant. Therefore, this analysis likely does not cover all of the jobs related to the production of renewable energy.

Table 3
Percent Change in Quarterly Wages from Prior Year by Hours Worked, Renewable
Energy Firms, 2009Q3
Mean Median
All Workers 5.0% 15.6%
Employed 200+ Hours -1.3% 4.4%
Employed 350 + Hours 1.3% 2.9%
Source: Unemployment Insurance Wage Records

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