For years, Elohim Cofield hopped from job to job without landing a stable career that supported him and his family.
His luck changed two years ago when he joined an apprentice program that promises steady work at more than $40 an hour installing solar panels and other energy infrastructure.
“This has allowed my family to grow from an apartment to a home,” said Cofield, a Sacramento resident with six children.
In a new study, labor researchers from UC Berkeley say career shifts like Cofield’s have been made possible by strict renewable fuel policies California has developed since 2002.
The study, from the school’s Center for Labor Research and Education, contends that investments in renewable energy facilities supported 32,636 blue-collar construction jobs between 2002 and 2015.
The study estimates renewable energy construction jobs put $340 million into pensions for blue-collar workers and about $400 million in health insurance programs. About $47 million paid for apprenticeships that helped people such as Cofield change careers. Cofield spoke at a news conference announcing the study’s results Tuesday.
The state’s renewable energy mandate has been a “virtuous cycle creating stable careers with good wages and benefits,” said Betony Jones, one of the report’s authors.
The Advanced Energy Economy Institute, a Washington, D.C., clean power advocacy group, estimated in April that 500,000 Californians work in the renewable energy industry.
That larger number includes a variety of industries such as solar, wind and nuclear power. It also incorporates efforts to spur energy efficiency or develop electric vehicles.
State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León promoted the labor report at a news conference Tuesday, arguing its findings should help persuade lawmakers to tighten clean energy standards and renew California’s greenhouse gas cap-and-trade market.
“Clean energy is no longer a niche market or a plaything for the wealthy,” said de León, a Los Angeles Democrat. “It is a pillar of our economy and it is here to stay.”
Cofield, 47, the Sacramento apprentice, has about three years to go before he’ll earn top dollar as a journeyman in the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
“I’m not looking back,” he said.