Anthony Prisco, the head of the renewable energy practice for the staffing firm Aerotek, said a standard solar project will employ about 250 workers for just under a year. About one-third of the workers make $30 an hour or more; the other two-thirds have fewer skills and make hourly wages of less than $20.
By contrast, the construction of a gas-powered electricity plant typically lasts two to three years and employs hundreds of skilled, unionized tradesmen — electricians, pipe-fitters and boilermakers — who make $75,000 a year or more, including benefits.
“When you’re talking about the transition to the new green economy, the first question has got to be how are people going to make a horizontal economic move,” said Sean McGarvey, the president of North America’s Building Trades Unions, in an interview last month. “I can tell you that in the onshore wind and solar industry, for my members we’re talking in some cases a 75 percent pay cut and they’re losing benefits.”
Jim Harrison, the director of renewable energy for the Utility Workers Union of America, said that it typically takes hundreds of workers to operate and maintain a nuclear or coal plant, several dozen at a gas plant — and about a dozen at a wind farm. Solar fields can often operate without a single worker on-site.
Mr. Biden has acknowledged that his plans could leave around 130,000 oil, gas and coal workers without their livelihoods. He included a $16 billion program to help fossil fuel workers transition to new work like capping leaks on defunct oil wells and shutting down retired coal mines.
The fossil fuel industry, while generally supportive of capping abandoned wells, contends that Mr. Biden is overstating the job opportunities.
“It’s something oil and gas workers could do. They’re already experts at it, and they would be union jobs,” said Frank Maisano, a partner at Bracewell, LLP, which represents oil and gas companies. “But there are a lot of oil and gas workers, and there aren’t enough of those wells.