A brutal five months of layoffs in the U.S. clean energy sector ground to a halt in July as wind, solar, and other renewable energy projects added back what advocates say was an encouraging, but modest, number of jobs.
The gain of 3,200 jobs still leaves more than half a million clean energy workers out of work since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, according to an analysis of federal labor data released Wednesday by the American Council on Renewable Energy, E2, and other clean energy advocacy groups.
The slight improvement in July jobs provides a glimmer of positive news for a sector that by May had lost more than 620,000 jobs in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and related stay-at-home orders and office and business closures. But the July gains were so modest they amounted to less than a 0.1% job improvement among clean energy employers, including in wind and solar energy, energy efficiency, and electric vehicles.
“The renewable sector’s modest job gains in June have stalled out and are at risk of reversing again,” said ACORE President and CEO Greg Wetstone.
His and other groups are urging Congress to make existing tax credits for wind, solar, and other projects refundable now to provide projects with much-needed funding to leverage investment.
California had the largest surge of clean energy jobs in July, with 720 jobs, according to the analysis. Massachusetts, Texas, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Michigan, Florida, and Colorado each gained more than 100 clean energy jobs last month.
Nine other states added fewer than 10 jobs in July: Wyoming, Alaska, South Dakota, West Virginia, Montana, North Dakota, Idaho, Maine, and Kentucky.
The slight job growth echoes the national labor picture, with the U.S. adding 1.8 million jobs in July but still struggling with a 10.2% unemployment rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A total of 16.3 million remain unemployed in the U.S. even after the modest economic improvement over the last few months.
The anemic hiring in July is unlikely to return the clean energy sector to what was one of the most robust job engines in the U.S., employing a total of 3.4 million in 2019.
The clean energy sector, which encompasses wind and solar installers, energy efficiency companies, and electric vehicle production, has suffered a nearly 15% decline since the beginning of March, according to the analysis.
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