Energy Jobs Table

The clean-energy sector, a short time ago one of the nation's leaders for new jobs, has been hard hit in California by a wave of job losses that could set the industry back years, according to a new report from Environmental Entrepreneurs.

Analysis of unemployment data since March shows that nearly 110,000 clean-energy workers in California have filed for unemployment in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, according to E2's 2020 Clean Jobs California report, issued June 25. The losses follow five straight years of job growth in the state. The group is calling for strengthening of new and existing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean-energy programs.

"The policy leadership that nurtured California's rise as a clean energy powerhouse can help us build back faster and stronger than before," E2 Western States Advocate Andy Wunder said in a news release. "Strategic state investments and policy direction can catalyze a recovery that gets the 109,000 construction workers, electricians, factory workers, and other clean energy workers in California who lost their job back to work quickly, all while leveraging the private investment needed for California to meet its long-term climate goals."

The renewable-energy sector in California lost 29,349 jobs, or about 19.1 percent of the workforce, according to the report. Energy-efficiency jobs in the state dropped by 20.2 percent or 65,369 jobs; clean-vehicle jobs by 21.4 percent or 8,688 jobs; storage and grid jobs by 20.7 percent or 4,963 jobs; and clean fuels by 15.3 percent or 1,343 jobs.

Los Angeles County lost the highest number of jobs at 18,667 lost, or about 19.6 percent of the clean-energy workforce, followed by San Diego County with 6,704 jobs lost, or 12.8 percent of the workforce; Alameda County with 5,718 jobs or 11.9 percent; Riverside County with 4,081 jobs or 16.4 percent; Kern County with 2,854 jobs or 35.2 percent; and Fresno County with 2,715 jobs or 32 percent.

"Energy efficiency workers lost their jobs after being shut out of homes and buildings to prevent the spread of the coronavirus," the report says. "Solar and wind turbine companies furloughed workers after panels and parts were stranded in shut-down factories. Factory workers were let go as assembly lines for Energy Star appliances and electric and hybrid vehicles went dark."

The report also offers some statistics on the clean-energy workforce, noting that it includes workers from not only coastal cities, but also the Central Valley as well as desert and mountain areas. Two out of every five clean-energy jobs are outside the San Francisco Bay, Los Angeles and San Diego metro areas, and about 58 percent of clean-energy workers are employed by businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

The report calls for staying the course on existing policies such as Advanced Clean Trucks (see related story) and other fleet rules, and for state lawmakers to drive policies that increase development of new renewables, modernize the state's grid and improve its resilience. Other proposals include increasing adoption of electric vehicles and charging infrastructure, energy efficiency and building electrification.

The addition of more than 7,000 jobs to the clean-energy economy in 2019 was driven by growth in electric, hydrogen and fuel-cell vehicles, energy storage, grid modernization, wind energy and energy efficiency, the report says.

The report calls for strategic investment of federal stimulus money, prioritizing state investment in clean energy, advancing a state recovery bond grounded in green bond principles, and fast-tracking policies that drive private investment. More specifically, it recommends advancing a statewide EV charging network and expanding EV adoption incentives for light-, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles.

In the fourth quarter last year, California ranked first in the nation in total jobs with 537,000 in the five main clean-energy sectors—energy efficiency, renewable generation, storage and grid, clean vehicles and clean fuels. Among 21 sub-technology sectors, the state ranked no lower than fifth, while ranking first in 12.