Mini-Boom in Renewables Hiring Offers Lifeline to Laid-Off Texas Fossil Workers
Even as the coronavirus pandemic wipes out tens of thousands of renewable energy jobs, Texas is going through a mini-boom in renewables hiring, Bloomberg Green reports, as a handful of clean energy executives in the state tap into an opportunity to recruit talent from an industry that has been hit even harder.
“To be clear, clean power companies aren’t even close to being in position to absorb the nearly 90,000 fossil fuel jobs shed in March and April, including drillers, frackers, and refiners,” Bloomberg writes. “Renewables companies shed nearly 96,000 of their own jobs during that period as lockdowns put rooftop solar installations and other larger projects on ice.”
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However, “while some furloughed clean power workers are already being called back to work, the pain in the oil patch continues as the industry suffers its worst downturn ever as the pandemic cripples demand.”
That reality plays into an opportunity the state’s clean energy entrepreneurs have been attuned to for some time.
“We are hiring oil and gas refugees, for sure,” said Christian Fong, CEO of Houston-based solar company Spruce Finance Inc., which shifted its head office from San Francisco a couple of years ago.
“We’ve always wanted oil and gas folks,” added Jeff Bishop, CEO of Houston-based utility-scale battery developer Key Capture Energy, which has installed three 10-megawatt battery systems in the state so far. Bishop’s provocatively-titled LinkedIn post two months ago—“Houston Oil & Gas Folks—we’re hiring in Texas”—has drawn 200 responses so far.
“Before 2020, I had never heard of any firm specifically hiring from oil and gas into advanced energy companies,” said Advanced Energy Economy CEO Nat Kreamer, founder of Sunrun Inc. “Now you look at a place like Texas with so much work to be done in renewables and so little work to be done in oil and gas—it’s obvious.”
That’s partly because “when boiled down, much of oil, gas, wind, and solar is about building projects and selling the output,” Bloomberg explains. “That requires workers with backgrounds in geology, land acquisition, engineering, finance, asset management, and energy contracts.”
But even so, “while there are plenty of overlapping skills, it wasn’t always easy for clean power companies to lure top talent from oil and gas,” when “wind and solar were young and niche industries that tended to attract environmentalists.” Now “they’re big energy, and they appeal to a wider class of workers”.
The other factor is that “clean power already has momentum in Texas.,” the news agency adds. “It’s long been the top wind power state in the U.S., solar has been booming,” and “Houston plans to power all of its city-owned properties—from fire stations to airports—with renewable energy.”
The balance between fossil job losses and renewable hiring in the state is still way off—while Spruce plans to increase its staff by 30%, or 20 people, over the next three to six months, colossal fossil Chevron has just announced a 10 to 15% reduction in its global work force, while oilfield services giants Schlumberger Ltd. and Halliburton Co. have already made steep cuts.
But “in the end, clean power executives say they’re confident they’re better-positioned to bounce back and ultimately prevail in the struggle for the future of energy,” Bloomberg writes. “In some instances, pay is even better in clean power. The median hourly wage for a mid-career wind industry worker is now US$29.79, above the $26.67 for oil.”
“We clearly see renewable energy coming out as a relative winner from this COVID crisis,” analysts at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. wrote in an investor note last week.
“Ten years ago, the idealistic change-the-world folks were attracted to clean energy,” Bishop added. “Today, we still get some of the change-the-world folks, but it’s an increasing number of team members wanting stable jobs in a growth industry.”