Analysts Say 594,300 Jobs in Clean Energy Lost to Pandemic

Four groups analyzing data from the U.S. Dept. of Labor said more than half-a-million jobs in the clean energy sector were lost in March and April due to shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The losses, representing about 18% of the industry’s total workforce, were detailed in a report released May 13.

The groups said 447,208 new unemployment claims were filed in April, triple the number filed in March, for a total of 594,347 lost jobs in those months, coinciding with lockdown orders due to the outbreak of COVID-19. The analysis of unemployment data was published today by E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), E4TheFuture, and BW Research Partnership.

“It’s a lot worse that we thought. Americans in every state—red, blue, purple—are losing clean energy jobs across a wide swath of occupations— electricians, technicians, installers and factory workers,” said Bob Keefe, executive director of E2, a national business group. “Congress needs to include clean energy in any future economic stimulus package to help stem this massive loss of jobs today and set the foundation for a stronger, cleaner and more resilient economy tomorrow.”

Jobs Lost in Energy Efficiency

The industry hit hardest by job losses is energy efficiency, with 413,486 jobless claims in March and April. Workers in the renewables sector filed 95,574 unemployment claims, representing about 13% of the total renewable energy workforce.

This chart shows the jobless claims from various sectors of the clean energy industry during March and April 2020. Source: E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), E4TheFuture, and BW Research Partnership.

Workers in the energy-efficiency sector include those who energy-efficient appliances, and heating and cooling systems, as well as those who install the equipment—particularly in homes. The number also includes workers in the electric vehicle sector.

The groups said energy-efficiency jobs were lost at four times the rate of those in renewable energy, where lost jobs include rooftop solar installers, wind turbine technicians, and factory workers who build equipment for the renewable energy industry.

The clean vehicle sector lost 46,501 jobs, with 26,202 jobs lost in the grid and energy storage sectors, according to the report.

‘Higher Numbers Than Expected’

“These are higher numbers than expected, and we were expecting bad numbers,” said Greg Wetstone, president of ACORE, a trade group. “It’s painful to see three years of growth essentially wiped out in a single month.”

California is the state hit hardest by job losses, with 77,900 unemployment claims filed in April, and more than 100,000 in the two-month period. Los Angeles County lost nearly 15,000 clean energy jobs in April alone, two-and-a-half times as many as any other U.S. county.

Georgia, Michigan, Texas, and Florida all lost more than 22,000 jobs, and 23 other states had at least 5,000 jobless claims, according to the analysis. Georgia’s losses—27,161 jobs—represent about 31% of that state’s total clean energy workforce.

Three states lost more than a quarter of their clean energy jobs: Louisiana, Kentucky, and Hawaii.

Los Angeles, New York City, and Chicago were the hardest-hit metro areas in terms of total jobs losses. Four other cities—Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Cleveland—all lost at least 18% of their clean energy workforce.

Lost Jobs Wipe Out Job Gains

The number of jobs lost nationwide is more than double the number of clean energy jobs created since 2017, according to the analysis. The groups said that prior to March, clean energy had been one of the U.S. economy’s biggest and fastest-growing employment sectors, growing 10.4% since 2015, to 3.4 million jobs at the end of 2019, or three times the number of people employed in the fossil fuel industry.

“The economic data from April shows that the job losses from the COVID-19 pandemic are worse than expected,” said Phil Jordan, vice president and principal at BW Research Partnership. “Unemployment claims increased dramatically across many key segments of the clean energy sector, such as construction and manufacturing. And the data does not suggest that we have yet to hit the bottom.”

The analysts said the lack of stimulus relief for the renewable energy sector, and for energy-efficiency programs, could cost the sectors another 250,000 jobs by mid-year. Their report forecasts that without congressional action, 850,000 clean energy workers will have filed jobless claims by June 30. That figure would mean that since the start of 2020, one of every four workers in clean energy would have lost their job.

“Renewable energy job losses in the month of April were unfortunately even worse than we feared,” said Wetstone. “The COVID-19 pandemic is delivering an unprecedented blow to renewable industry workers, whose job losses more than tripled over the past month. Congress can help get these Americans back to work, and help get our economy back on track, with commonsense relief for time-sensitive tax credit deadlines and temporary refundability for renewable tax credits that are increasingly difficult to monetize.”

“Unprecedented economic impacts of COVID-19 are beyond daunting, for the whole clean energy industry, though the industry is nevertheless setting its sights on recovery and adapting to seek possible solutions,” said Steve Cowell, president of E4TheFuture.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics last year projected that the nation’s two fastest-growing jobs over the next decade would be solar panel installer and wind turbine technician, and clean energy advocates have been quick to tout the importance of the sector to the nation’s economic recovery.

“The pieces remain in place,” Wetstone said. “Our product, wind and solar power, is very cost-effective.”

Darrell Proctor is associate editor for POWER (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).

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