Before COVID, an engine for growth
Clean energy has been the source of steady, reliable economic growth for much of the past decade. A key component of the response from the 2008 crash, the $90 billion in clean energy investment that came through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act can be credited for jumpstarting both the clean energy boom of the past decade and bolstering the overall recovery. 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 overall.
Outpacing the economy – and fossil fuels
In recent years, the clean energy industry became one of the fastest-growing industries in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, solar panel installers and wind turbine technicians were projected to be the two fastest growing occupations in the country over the next decade. In 2019, the clean energy industry accounted for more than half the entire energy sector’s growth, adding more than 70,000 jobs and outpacing the U.S. workforce as a whole. Between 2015 and 2019, as the U.S. workforce grew by 6.1%, clean energy employment expanded 10.4%.
The clean energy industry is a proven catalyst for quick job growth. Nearly 1 million jobs were created as a result of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which included $90 billion in federal investments in clean energy. Investments in renewable energy generate roughly three times more direct and indirect jobs than comparable investment in fossil fuels. Meanwhile, the fossil fuel industry has been steadily shedding jobs since October 2018, a year and a half before the pandemic began.
Left out of the COVID recovery
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 – almost three-quarters of which were in energy efficiency. Preliminary analysis suggests a substantial number of remaining jobs may be at risk if the Paycheck Protection Program is allowed to expire, as construction – the largest segment of the clean energy economy – has been among the top recipients of PPP loans.
Requests for aid snubbed or delayed
Despite clean energy’s long-term potential, the industry’s requests for federal aid have been snubbed or delayed. President Trump and Senate Republicans initially blocked the clean energy industry’s relatively modest request for assistance, even as the administration and fossil fuel allies on the Hill rushed to provide aid to oil and gas. Then in April, the Trump administration held back $43 billion in low-interest loans for clean energy projects that were authorized long before with bipartisan support.
In late May, the U.S. Treasury granted an extension of time-sensitive tax credits for wind and solar projects imperiled by work slowdowns due to the pandemic, but the Trump administration also ended a two-year rent holiday for solar and wind projects on federal lands, resulting in large retroactive bills, some over $3 million, to an industry grappling with impacts from COVID-19. This move also contrasts with the treatment of oil and gas drillers on federal lands, which the Trump Administration has helped by expanding access to lending facilities and offering relief from royalties owed to the government amidst the oil market slump.