Clean energy advocates are calling for legislation to jump start the economy by supporting what was one of the Midwest’s largest and fastest growing jobs sectors before the coronavirus pandemic.
At the end of 2019, more than 76,000 Wisconsin workers were employed in clean energy and energy efficiency jobs, which grew at more than twice the rate of overall employment growth, according to a new report from Clean Energy Trust and E2, two nonprofit groups representing clean energy investors.
But since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March, some 11,366 of those workers — including more than 2,350 in Dane County alone — have filed for unemployment, according to a separate report.
“The industry, like so much of the economy, is hurting,” said Micaela Preskill, Midwest advocate for E2.
Citing the impact of weatherization programs that were part of the federal stimulus package in 2009, Preskill said state and federal programs focused on clean energy “can get the most people back to work over the most sectors in the least amount of time.”
The groups say direct economic stimulus funding as well as policies that will advance clean energy development will create jobs across numerous sectors of the economy, including construction, manufacturing, transportation, finance and agriculture.
According to the Clean Jobs Midwest report, nearly 70% of Wisconsin’s clean energy workforce were employed by businesses with fewer than 20 employees, and a quarter of the jobs were based in rural areas.
Preskill said investment in clean energy will have two-fold benefits.
“We need to look at recovery as building the future we want,” Preskill said. “It’s an opportunity to restart the economy and build a cleaner and more robust one.”
Factors that led to the growth of renewable energy over the past several years — including rapidly falling costs and consumer demand — will continue to drive growth in the post-pandemic economy, said Scott Coenen, executive director of the Wisconsin Conservative Energy Forum, a nonprofit group pushing for Republican support of clean energy.
“To me it makes sense to look at the industries of the future,” Coenen said. “To us renewables should be really front and center in that conversation.”
While Coenen’s group does not support tax credits or direct subsidies, he said Wisconsin lawmakers can act to remove barriers to growth, such as allowing third-party finance for solar panels or finding ways to help utilities replace increasingly expensive coal plants.
“Why wouldn’t we start to look to knock down those barriers?” Coenen said. “I think renewable energy should be front and center when we start to think about jobs of the future.”