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Renewables Gained Ground But Lost Workers In 2020. What Gives?

Madelyn Beck
Mountain West News Bureau

The wind and solar industries made historic gains last year. Both reached new highs in energy production and capacity in 2020.

However, COVID-19 hit the renewables workforce hard. Nearly 430,000 workers lost their jobs during the pandemic and didn’t get them back by the end of last year. That’s a 12% decline, according to BW Research Partnership.

In an email, BW Research Partnership Vice President Philip Jordan blamed a few things for this diverging pattern. First, he said sales for things like solar panels are “going online instead of in person, which requires fewer workers and is just accelerating an existing trend.”

Beyond that, he blamed productivity. That is, fewer people needed to make the same amount of energy.

Gregory Wetstone, the president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, says bigger wind and solar projects can be more efficient, which makes them cheaper and more competitive compared to fossil fuels.

That said, he says renewables will create more jobs down the line, most notably in batteries and energy storage, “which is going to become a booming sector soon, and then we need to expand and upgrade our grid in this country as a matter of national infrastructure.”

As originally reported by E&E News, low job numbers from solar and wind could be a challenge for the Biden administration to overcome, though. If new solar and wind energy jobs can’t replace losses in the fossil fuel industry, renewable advocates won’t find many friends among Western GOP lawmakers.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio News. To see more, visit Boise State Public Radio News.

Madelyn Beck is Boise State Public Radio's regional reporter with the Mountain West News Bureau. She's from Montana but has reported everywhere from North Dakota to Alaska to Washington, D.C. Her last few positions included covering energy resources in Wyoming and reporting on agriculture/rural life issues in Illinois.
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