Clean energy sector surges

But the industry has a lot to make up after initially losing more than 31,000 jobs to COVID-19.
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(As seen on WZZM 13) More than 113,400 Michiganders worked in alternative energy at the end of 2020, according to a study released by the Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and Clean Energy Trust.

The report comes as the U.S. Congress and the Biden administration are considering legislation to boost federal investments in clean energy and clean vehicles, and as the state continues to implement Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive action on climate.

“This industry is poised for growth like we’ve never seen before,” said Micaela Preskill, Midwest advocate for E2. “The economics are in our favor. Clean energy is now the cheapest energy in most parts of the world, and we’re seeing record investments in clean energy companies.”

Preskill added, for the industry to reach its full potential and curb the effects of climate change, the responsibility falls on lawmakers to pass the right policies. According to the analysis, policies that move Michigan toward its goal of decarbonization by 2050 would help create tens of thousands of new jobs for decades as Michigan moves beyond the immediate recovery.

“We have a blueprint in the Biden administration’s Build Back Better plan and a step in the right direction with the senate’s passing of the infrastructure bill. Creating jobs and helping our economy and environment shouldn’t be a partisan issue, and Midwest Congress members from both sides of the aisle will be key to implementing the Build Back Better plan.”

Like most other sectors of the economy, clean energy was hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and economic downturn in 2020. According to this year’s Clean Jobs Midwest report, 2020 was the first year-to-year decline since E2 and Clean Energy Trust began tracking Michigan clean energy jobs in 2016.

At one point, more than 31,000 Michigan clean energy workers had filed for unemployment, but the sector surged back 20.4% in the second half of the year to recover about two-thirds of the jobs initially lost. The final 2020 job numbers represent a 9.5% drop in Michigan’s clean energy workforce from 2019, or 11,900 jobs.

Last year’s job losses were a dramatic change of pace for the industry. In the three years leading up to 2020, for example, clean energy jobs grew almost three times as fast as overall statewide employment.

According to the analysis, energy efficiency jobs saw the biggest drop with Michigan’s largest clean energy employer now employing 74,242. The sector lost 11,081 jobs, declining about 13% over the year as workers were prevented from entering homes and offices because of the pandemic lockdowns.

Other clean energy sectors also saw significant declines in 2020, including renewable energy (5.9%), grid and storage (8.1%), and clean fuels (4.1%).

“There is some good news,” said Ian Adams, managing director at Clean Energy Trust. “The industry is rebounding and grew faster than the overall economy in the second half of the year. A few other bright spots: wind energy, those jobs grew by 4% last year, despite the downturn, and now employ almost 40,000 people in the Midwest, and advanced transportation jobs grew in every state in the region, driven by growth of hybrids and electric vehicles.”

Clean energy jobs in Michigan rebounded quicker than the overall workforce in the state, according to the analysis. Michigan can take advantage of the sector’s high job growth potential by enacting policies that support renewable energy, energy efficiency and electric vehicles, the report stated.

The EV and hybrid electric vehicle industries now employ about 24,268 Michiganders as an increasing number of automakers announced shifts to producing 100% zero-emission vehicles.

Renewable energy now employs 10,767 Michiganders, including 4,967 in wind and 4,555 in solar.

Additionally, grid and storage employ 3,579 Michiganders, and clean fuels employs 600. Small businesses drive Michigan’s clean energy sector — in 2020, 77.9% of Michigan’s clean energy businesses employed fewer than 20 people, according to the report. Clean energy employed workers in all 83 counties and all 14 congressional districts in Michigan.

“Energy is an economic engine in my district, with clean energy jobs supporting thousands of families,” said Aric Nesbitt, Michigan Senate president pro-tempore of the 26th District. “These jobs were growing three times faster than the overall economy leading up to the pandemic and have recovered more quickly. Long-term, sustainable jobs — that can’t be outsourced — will create a strong future for Michigan and our communities.”

Nationwide, clean energy employment finished 2020 down about 307,000 jobs from 2019’s high of nearly 3.4 million, recovering about 300,000 jobs nationally from June to December — a rate faster than nationwide employment growth during that period.

Methodology

The analysis is based on preliminary employment data collected and analyzed by BW Research Partnership for the 2021 U.S. Energy and Employment Report (USEER).

The USEER analyzes data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages to track employment across many energy production, transmission and distribution subsectors. In addition, the 2021 USEER relies on a unique supplemental survey of 35,000 business representatives across the U.S.

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