Clean energy has been a reliable source of steady economic growth over the past decade. The decade-long clean energy boom received a jumpstart from a $90 billion for clean energy investment provided under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, a stimulus law passed in response to the 2008 financial crisis. By the start of 2020, nearly 3.4 million Americans were employed in clean energy – about three times the number of people working in the fossil fuel industry and 2.25% of the U.S. workforce. Nearly 1 million of those jobs were a result of the 2009 stimulus.
Investments in renewable energy generate roughly three times more direct and indirect jobs than a comparable investment in fossil fuels. By contrast, the fossil fuel industry has been steadily shedding jobs since October 2018, a year and a half before the pandemic began. Layoffs in 2020 extended this trend.
Clean energy’s role will continue to expand as the economy transitions away from fossil fuels. The two fastest-growing occupations in the country over the next decade will be wind turbine technician and solar-panel installer, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects.
Like the rest of the economy, the clean energy sector took a substantial hit in the first half of 2020, losing more than 620,000 jobs from March through May of 2020. Almost three-quarters of those were in energy efficiency.
Despite clean energy’s long-term potential, however, former President Trump and Senate Republicans rebuffed the industry’s requests for federal aid during the crisis, even as they rushed to support oil and gas. In April, the Trump administration held up funding $43 billion in low-interest loans for clean energy projects that were authorized with bipartisan support years earlier.
In May, the Trump administration ended a two-year rent holiday for solar and wind projects on federal lands, resulting in large retroactive bills for an industry already grappling with the pandemic’s economic impacts. During the same period, the administration flew to the aid of oil and gas producers, expanding their access to subsidized loans and reducing the fees they owed to drill on federal lands.
Under the sitting Biden Administration, Congress has the opportunity to renew U.S. support for an ambitious agenda that supports a just transition to a green economy.