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COVID-19 Wipes Out Nearly 600,000 U.S. Clean Energy Jobs

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The COVID-19 pandemic has wiped out nearly 600,000 energy efficiency and renewable energy jobs in the United States, more than twice as many as the country has created since 2017, and the numbers are set to rise through the spring, according to an analysis of U.S. Department of Labor data released last week by Washington, DC-based Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE).

In a separate report, the Solar Energy Industries Association says solar is losing jobs at a faster rate than the overall economy, and has seen five years of job growth evaporate.

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The E2/ACORE analysis found that 18% of the renewable energy work force filed for unemployment benefits in March and April, with the hardest hits landing in California and Texas, two of the country’s biggest renewable energy markets, Bloomberg writes [2]. “Claims for unemployment benefits in energy efficiency exceeded 413,000 in March and April, while there were nearly 96,000 claims in renewables over that period, according to the report.”

Efficiency, renewables, and vehicles “had been one of the country’s biggest job creators in recent years,” the news agency adds. “But the pandemic has curtailed electricity demand, and stay-at-home orders have limited access to some residents, prompting companies in the industry to shed jobs. The report Wednesday forecasts that 850,000 clean energy workers will have filed for unemployment by the end of next month.”

The 65,000 jobs lost in solar mean the industry “now employs around 188,000 people, down from 250,000 at the beginning of the year,” Greentech Media adds [3]. “Many of those jobs could come back in an economic rebound. Still, it’s a stark reversal for what had been one of the country’s fastest-growing industries, forecast by SEIA to reach more than 300,000 jobs by June of this year before the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.”

Josh Lutton, president of Illinois-based solar installer Certasun, said his company generated no revenue at all during a three-week stay-at-home order, and returned to a much quieter market. “Certasun’s roughly 50 employees now follow social distancing and workplace hygiene guidelines, but municipalities have halted permits and inspections,” Greentech writes. “Leads for new customers have dropped, and some customers are canceling their plans.”

“They’re saying, I just lost my job, I’m worried about losing my job, or I lost a lot of money in the stock market and I want to keep my powder dry,’” Lutton explained.

“Solar isn’t the hardest hit of the clean energy sectors—that unfortunate distinction goes to the energy efficiency sector, which employs more people, many of them in jobs that require being able to access homes and businesses,” Greentech adds, citing SEIA Vice President of Public Affairs Dan Whitten. “But solar is suffering greater job losses than other sectors such as electric vehicle manufacturing or power grid infrastructure.” Most of the layoffs “are coming in the residential and commercial sectors, which employ far more people per gigawatt of installed capacity than the larger utility-scale solar market.”