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Using the latest Labor Department data, E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), and other analysts reported on Wednesday that 594,347 workers in clean energy occupations, representing 17.8% of the industry’s workforce, filed for unemployment benefits in April and March. While the oil and gas industry has also been hard hit, the loss of renewable energy jobs was shocking to many, with the great majority of the losses being in the energy efficiency, which accounted for nearly 70% of all clean energy job losses in April or 310,000 workers filing for unemployment.’
Why This Matters: The oil and gas industry really is the squeaky wheel getting the grease. The number of jobs lost in that sector is likely only a fraction of those lost in the renewable energy sector. Oilprice.com, an industry publication, reported in March that a “sustained drop in oil prices would cost the sector 50,000-75,000 jobs if employment returned to its low from a few years ago,” and that overall in the last industry downturn caused by low prices led to the loss of 200,000 jobs. If this downturn is similar, it is clear that renewable energy has much more to lose from COVID than oil and gas, and ought to get a significant share of any stimulus funds for the energy sector.
Which States Lost the Most Jobs
California, with more than 105,000 jobs lost, was the biggest “loser” in the last two months, but many other states also suffered big losses (relatively speaking), including Texas, Michigan, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. To put these losses in perspective, before COVID-19, “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, making “clean energy by far the biggest employer of workers in all energy occupations, employing nearly three times as many people as the fossil fuel industry.” One other interesting fact in the report — “Hispanic and Latino clean energy workers were hit the hardest of clean energy demographics; the clean energy industry is about 14 percent Hispanic/Latino, but an estimated 25 percent of the job losses in the clean energy industry are Hispanic/Latino workers.”
What Can Congress Do?
“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,” ACORE President and CEO Gregory Wetstone explained. In the CARES Act, assistance for the renewable energy sector came out of the bill as part of a stalemate over assistance for oil and gas companies. But given the staggering job loss numbers, there may be an opening to add something like this in the latest HEROES Act that is being discussed now. Politico reported that the industry is actively seeking an extension of their tax credits, which expire, a revival of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, and increased funding for state energy programs.
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