EXPLAINER: Can Biden add energy jobs? Hope mixes with doubt

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A parking area with charging stations for electric vehicles at a public park is seen Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Orlando, Fla. As part of an infrastructure proposal by the Biden administration, $174 billion will be set aside to build 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, electrify 20% of school buses and electrify the federal fleet, including U.S. Postal Service vehicles.(AP Photo/John Raoux)

NEW YORK – Good-paying jobs — many of them.

That′s the seductive idea around which President Joe Biden is proposing a vast transformation of the energy sector, with the promise of making it far more energy-efficient and environmentally friendly. As Biden portrays it, his plan to invest in infrastructure — and accelerate a shift to renewable energy and electric vehicles, to more efficient homes and upgrades to the power grid — would produce jobs at least as good as the ones that might be lost in the process.

His plans call for 100% renewable energy in the power sector by 2035. To people who have devoted careers to the the fossil fuel industries, those plans may look more like a dire threat. To the president, though, out-of-work oil workers could be shifted to other jobs — plugging uncapped oil wells, for example — and thousands more positions would be created to help string power lines and build electric vehicles and their components.

“We think that’s a lot of jobs to fill, and one of the key questions is: How do we build the right skill base that can help fill those jobs?” said Matt Sigelman, CEO of Burning Glass Technologies, a labor market analytics firm.

The outlook for the energy industry's coming decades, as Biden's plan would have it, includes good wages and good benefits, reinforced by a revival of labor unions.

“I’m a union guy,” he said at a union training center in Pittsburgh. "I support unions, unions built the middle class, and it’s about time they started to get a piece of the action.”

A speedier transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy would hardly be as simple as longtime wildcatters transforming themselves into solar installers. So many unknowns overhang the shift toward greener energy that no one knows how the industries and its jobs will evolve in the coming years.

For one thing, many experts say the transition to electric vehicles will likely mean fewer factory workers than are now employed in producing internal combustion engines and complex transmissions. EVs have 30% to 40% fewer moving parts than vehicles that run on petroleum.