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Clean energy jobs are being cut

The Denver Post eEdition, Judith Kohler, June 17, 2020 Colorado and the country continue to lose clean energy jobs by the thousands since the coronavirus began spreading, a national industry group said Monday.

A new analysis by E2, Environmental Entrepreneurs, said the industry lost 27,000 jobs nationwide in May, increasing the total to 620,500 since the coronavirus caused an economic clampdown. Colorado lost 7,531 jobs, a 11.2% drop from March through May, according to the report. The jobs range from construction to manufacturing to engineering and include work in renewable energy, energy efficiency, electrified transportation and biofuels.

Despite recent declines nationally in the number of new applications for jobless benefits, the clean energy industry isn’t seeing a recovery, Bob Keefe, E2 executive said in a call with reporters. “That’s not what we’re seeing yet in what, pre-COVID-19, was one of the fastest-growing sectors of our economy,” Keefe said.

Colorado had 62,420 clean-energy jobs at the end of 2019, according to the industry group. Nearly 3.4 million people across the country worked in the industry at the end of last year, according to E2.

Keefe and Gregory Wetstone, president and CEO of the American Council on Renewable Energy, said they hope Congress will address the industry’s concerns as it considers more legislation to aid the economy.

One way to help would be to make the wind and solar tax credits refundable, Wetstone said. Customers and investors would be able to take direct payment in place of a tax credit. Refunds were temporarily approved in 2009 in response to the Great Recession, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Congressional committee hearings scheduled Tuesday were expected to focus on clean energy jobs, Wetstone said.

Gov. Jared Polis has asked federal officials to extend the wind and solar tax credits as well as make them refundable, Will Toor, executive director of the Colorado Energy Office, said in an email. The value of federal tax credits for wind and solar projects is being reduced in phases and will eventually be ended.

“Colorado and the nation as a whole would benefit from a concerted federal investment in infrastructure and clean energy,” Toor said. “The federal government has an opportunity to help businesses and communities recover from the effects of the pandemic while building the industries of the future and tackling our climate and clean air challenges.”

Polis has set a goal of seeing Colorado get 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2040. Laws passed in 2019 set goals for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

While the clean energy industry and the overall economy continue to struggle, there is a ray of hope on the renewable energy front in Colorado. Mike Kruger, president and CEO of the trade group Colorado Solar and Storage Association, said companies that work on residential and rooftop solar installations are starting to bring back furloughed employees. “On the rooftop and residential solar side, we’ve stopped the bleeding and shedding of jobs,” Kruger said. Before the coronavirus outbreak, the solar industry had more jobs than qualified workers, Kruger said. Solar companies have tried to hold onto those people during the downturn.

“The assumption is the future is still very strong, that the demand for solar is not going away,” Kruger said.

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