Could Florida Charge its Economy with Energy Jobs?

Publication Date: 
Thursday, December 11, 2014
  • Ray Schaub
  • Michael Holcomb

On September 30, 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) released state personal income data for the second quarter of 2014. As can be seen in Figure 1, Florida fared better than most states, with personal income growing 1.7% from the previous quarter, beating the national average. However, looking at this map, one cannot help but to see a clear winner by region: the Midwest and Mountain states seem to have far outpaced the rest of the nation. Throwing in Texas for good measure, it is hard not to associate the energy sector with this strong growth. This stands to reason, as new hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) technology has increased the extraction of natural gas and oil in the U.S. over the past few years. We take a closer look to see if this at-first-glance assumption holds water.

Figure 1: Heat map of change in state personal income

Source: U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis


First, we will examine per capita income (PCI) to control for changes in population, and we want to observe further back than the previous quarter in order to find longer-term trends. Table 1 shows the ten states with the largest change in per capita income from 2010 to 2013, along with the U.S. (essentially, we are looking over the span of the recovery from the Great Recession). With the exception of California, this table looks quite similar to the dark blue states in Figure 1. The top three ranked states have a particularly strong correlation with the energy sector. North Dakota has the second-highest crude oil production of any state for two years running at nearly 314 million barrels in 2013, has the third-highest average annual growth rate over the past five years at more than 33%, and has the second highest percentage of total nonfarm employment in the natural resources and mining sector at just over 7%. Wyoming ranks 9th in crude oil production and 6th in natural gas gross withdrawals, generating nearly 64 million barrels of crude and more than 2 trillion cubic ft. of natural gas in 2013, and ranks 1st in the nation for percentage of total nonfarm employment in natural resources and mining at more than 10%. Last but certainly not least, Texas ranks 1st in the nation in both crude production and natural gas gross withdrawals—the 928 million barrels of crude oil produced in Texas in 2013 was more than the next 5 largest states combined.

Table 1: 2010 to 2013 PCI change



PCI Change


United States



North Dakota
























South Dakota





Source: BEA

This is not to say that Florida has been left out in the cold. The Sunshine State’s per capita income growth from 2010 to 2013 was 11.68%, just over the national average. Moreover, Florida was not completely left out of the energy race. Although our state ranked only 24th in the nation in natural gas gross withdrawals in 2013, at just over 18 billion cubic ft., the natural gas withdrawals grew at an annual average rate of 929% over the past five years—by far the most of any state. Likewise, Florida ranked 24th in 2013 in crude oil production—a mere 2.17 million barrels—but the five-year annual average growth is over 22%, which is the third most of any state. Still, Florida’s employment percentage in the natural resources and mining sector is only 1.12%, suggesting these increases in production have likely had little to do with per capita income growth during the recovery. Additionally, Florida’s current oil and natural gas production is a fragment of what it was in the 1970’s (see Figure 2). This is due to the fact that no new fields or reservoirs have been discovered in the state since 1988. It would seem that Florida does not have the resources to significantly improve its economy from fossil fuel extraction. And even if this were an option, would that be the best direction for the state? Any environmental catastrophes would not fare well with two of Florida’s biggest exports—tourism and retirees.  

Figure 2:  Florida’s Crude Oil Production since 1970

Source:  Bureau of Mining and Minerals Regulation


Still, there may be other ways that Florida can get into the energy game. Given that we are the “Sunshine State,” it seems necessary to first address the white elephant in the room. Could Florida ever meet its energy needs, or even export energy, by capitalizing on its solar potential? The technical answer is yes—Florida consumed more than 1.9 million Gigawatt hours (Gwh) in 2012 and yet, according to a 2012 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Florida has more than 4.42 times this photovoltaic (PV) potential. PV cells are small panels that use semiconductors to convert sunlight into electricity. However, this PV potential includes using all available land that has realistic prospects for solar farming (i.e. excludes roads, environmentally protected land, etc.) for both utility-level surface area as well as rooftop surface area, hence is unlikely to be completely utilized in the near future. Combining offshore wind potential and PV potential increases this ratio to 4.45, though Florida’s wind potential is admittedly small compared to most states. Indeed, combining all types of renewable energy only increases the ratio to 4.78, implying that solar energy is where Florida’s highest potential lies. However, renewable energy is not the only option. A recent study by Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the Energy Services Coalition, and the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy looks at the impact of clean energy—defined as renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative transportation, and greenhouse gas management and accounting—on the Florida economy. The study found that over 130,000 Floridians were working in clean energy in 2014, up 6% from 2013, with an additional 9.2% growth expected for 2015. However, only 11,226 work in renewable energy, whereas nearly 100,000 work in energy efficiency. The study also found that these clean energy jobs are disbursed evenly throughout the state, that “(m)any of these are good-paying jobs that didn’t exist a decade or so ago,” and that they range from high-skill to low-skill jobs (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: Clean Energy Jobs by Category

Source: “Clean Jobs Florida: Sizing Up Florida’s Clean Energy Jobs Base and its Potential”


Considering the employment potential of clean energy, the possibility of exporting renewable energy rather than importing fossil fuels, and the environmental advantages—which are very difficult to quantify—this could be a lucrative new market for Florida and its residents. On the other hand, there are still other apsects to consider. For example, utilities using fossil fuels employ chemists, engineers, accountants, and many other jobs ranging from high-to low-skill. Additionally, Florida businesses generate revenue by tranporting fossil fuels across the state—and even to seaports for shipment elsewhere. It would require an in-depth study to determine which type of energy creates a better mix of occupations for Florida and/or pays higher wages. In any case, the potential benefits are appealing enough to warrant further investigation. Moreover, the possibilites resulting from developmental technologies—such as turbines anchored to the ocean floor to collect power from ocean currents—could increase Florida’s potential gains from clean energy in the future. Given population growth projections for the sunshine state in the short-and long-term, one thing for certain is that energy will continue be an important part of Florida’s economy in one way or another.




Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis:


Data from the Energy Information Administration:


Data from Florida Department of Environmental Protection:


Environmental and Energy Study Institute:


Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), the Energy Services Coalition, and the Florida Alliance for Renewable Energy. “Clean Jobs Florida: Sizing Up Florida’s Clean Energy Jobs Base and its Potential.” October 2014. Online Accessible:


National Renewable Energy Laboratory. “U.S. Renewable Energy Technical Potentials: A GIS- Based Analysis.” July 2012. Online Accessible:


U.S. Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management. “Florida: Reasonably Foreseeable Development Scenario for Fluid Minerals.” April 2008. Online Accessible:





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