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How Biden's clean-energy jobs transition could work in fossil fuel hubs

A new analysis shows lots of potential for regions with a high share of fossil fuel jobs to benefit from wind and solar development — with the right policies in place.

Why it matters: The idea of a "just transition" in the energy sector is discussed a lot in climate policy plans, including President Biden's recent executive order.

  • An aggressive shift to low-carbon energy to fight global warming creates risks for places where employment and the wider economy benefit from fossil fuel industries.
  • Enter the Brookings Institution analysis of counties with dense concentrations of oil, gas and coal-related employment that also have high renewables potential.

The big picture: The paper finds "impressive overlap between where fossil fuel jobs are now and where renewable energy generation could be."

  • "A quarter of the counties in the U.S. with the greatest potential for both wind and solar electricity generation are also fossil fuel hubs."
  • It also concludes that targeted policies to make that happen could lower political barriers to emissions-cutting policies.

How it works: Brookings analyzed county-level employment to construct a map of these "fossil fuel hubs."

  • Those are places in the top 20% job density in a suite of sectors like oil-and-gas extraction, fossil power generation, coal mining, oil-and-gas pipelines and distribution and more.
  • They overlaid that with University of Texas data on regions with high potential for wind and solar development and the most competitive costs for doing it.
  • That data relies on a metric called the levelized cost of electricity, which basically means the costs of building and then running, supplying and maintaining power facilities over time.

The intrigue: They find that of the 155 congressional districts with high potential in at least one of the renewable technologies, 91 are represented by GOP lawmakers.

But, but, but: The right policies are needed for successful transitions, the paper argues, and it's pretty clear-eyed about the opportunities but also the challenges.

  • It calls for steps like targeted job training efforts in “Goldilocks” communities — places reliant on fossil industries that also have strong renewables potential.
  • More broadly, transition efforts should involve partnerships between government, schools, labor, community groups and other stakeholders.

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