On Very Shaky Ground: What Clean Energy Businesses Need to Rebuild

Julia Pyper, Host/Producer Political Climate podcast

Business was booming in the clean energy industry prior to the massive economic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the coronavirus hit, around 3.4 million Americans worked in clean energy, surpassing the number of school teachers in the country. Today, nearly 500,000 clean energy workers in the U.S. remain unemployed as the sector struggles to recover. “I feel like we’re on very shaky grounds right now,” Alex Stone, founder of the Florida-based energy efficiency consulting firm ecoPreserve told the Political Climate podcast. “I don’t know that we can continue. We’re doing everything possible to maintain momentum. But I don’t know if it can continue.”

Why It Matters: Without federal assistance, 46% of clean energy businesses recently surveyed by the think tank Third Way said they will lay off workers, lower worker wages, cut worker hours, or cease operations. The Third Way survey that found that 50% of respondents took advantage of the Paycheck Protection Program approved by Congress in response to the COVID-19 downturn, while 90% indicated that major legislation addressing climate change or policies that promote clean energy would be highly beneficial to helping them overcome immediate challenges that they are facing in the wake of the pandemic. 

Congressional Support

These businesses are now looking for support, not only to bring back lost jobs but to scale the clean energy sector to new heights, creating new opportunities for the American workforce. The House of Representatives recently passed a clean energy innovation bill and bipartisan legislation is currently teed up in the Senate. But the outlook for a final bill looks hazy in the wake of a divisive election. Meanwhile, despite President-Elect Joe Biden’s support for boosting clean energy investments, prospects of Congress passing a more comprehensive green stimulus bill remain low as long as Republicans hold on to the Senateleaving the clean energy industry in limbo.

These businesses are now looking for support, not only to bring back lost jobs but to scale the clean energy sector to new heights, creating new opportunities for the American workforce. The House of Representatives passed a clean energy innovation bill last week and bipartisan legislation is currently teed up in the Senate. But the outlook for a final bill looks hazy in the lead-up to a divisive national election. Meanwhile, prospects of Congress passing a more comprehensive green stimulus bill remains low, leaving the clean energy industry in limbo. 

Not Just a Handout 

Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, the former chief economist for the Obama Administration’s Department of Commerce and resident senior fellow at Third Way, said that clean energy business leaders are rallying around a set of policies that they say would help keep their companies recover and expand. These policies include new tax credits and converting tax credits into cash grants. Public infrastructure investments, customer purchase subsidies, and low-interest loans were also among the most popular policy solutions. “They’re not looking for a handout,” Hughes-Cromwick told the Political Climate podcast. “A lot of businesses, if they could get low-interest loans, they would be able to expand their business and really recover from this COVID-related economic downturn.”

To Go Deeper: Hear from Ellen Hughes-Cromwick, Alexa Stone, and other clean energy business leaders in this episode of Political Climate. Or listen and subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, or wherever you get podcasts!

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