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How governors are fighting for clean energy jobs

Clean energy jobs could get the economy back on track and tackle climate change, they say

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis speaking about his renewable energy roadmap at a community solar garden in Arvada, Colorado, in 2019.
Photo by Joe Amon / MediaNews Group / The Denver Post / Getty Images

A coalition of 25 governors today renewed calls for a green recovery to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. They also called on Congress to pass a stimulus package that bolsters clean energy job growth.

It’s an investment that’s also needed to tackle the severe effects climate change is already having on states. “This is a crisis, and that’s why we really made it a goal from the very start to lead the way in renewable energy,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis tells The Verge.

The governors, including Polis, are part of the US Climate Alliance, formed in 2017 as a response to President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate agreement. They pledged to keep states on track to meet the goals of the agreement, even as federal efforts dissipated. Those climate ambitions led to the creation of 133,100 jobs in clean energy in their states between 2016 and 2019, a report released by the alliance today shows.

But the pandemic wiped out those job gains. Renewable energy and energy efficiency projects languished amid stay-at-home orders throughout the year. More than 301,000 people working in clean energy lost their jobs in the first half of 2020, according to the Climate Alliance report. The pain wasn’t limited to states that joined the alliance. Across the US, the solar workforce dropped to its lowest numbers since 2014, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association.

“These massive job losses underscore the need for swift, bipartisan Congressional action on a stimulus package that will help address the immediate needs of states and get these Americans back to work, while ensuring climate commitments are met,” the alliance wrote in a statement today. They’ve called on Congress to pass a stimulus package that includes $500 billion for states and territories, plus additional flexible spending for efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

While states are struggling to get the pandemic under control, climate change is still posing threats to their residents. That makes climate change and clean energy a priority in Colorado, says Polis. Last year, he unveiled a roadmap to get the state’s electricity generation to come completely from renewables by 2040. Colorado suffered the three biggest wildfires in its history this year, another sign that climate change is making fire seasons more devastating than ever.

Out of all the members of the alliance, Colorado saw one of the biggest growths in clean energy jobs between 2016 and 2019 — 13.9 percent. “Colorado’s double digit clean energy job growth is a testament to the economic benefit of leading on bold climate action and pollution reduction,” Polis says. “This sector will be a critical driver in the stabilization and growth of our economy moving forward.”

Polis and others have a lot of faith in clean energy as a job maker, because it already has a good track record across the US. Wind turbine service technician is still the fastest growing occupation in the US, while solar panel system installer is the third fastest. Prior to the pandemic, both occupations were expected to grow by 57 and 63 percent, respectively, through 2028, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to recommit the US to the Paris climate agreement and has laid out a sweeping plan to decarbonize the US economy. That includes transitioning the power sector to 100 percent carbon pollution-free energy by 2035. To keep those promises, he’ll need a lot of boots on the ground to modernize power grids and build up the country’s renewable energy capacity. Biden expects to create 10 million new jobs in clean energy, more than tripling the number of American workers currently employed in the sector. Biden will still need help from Congress, though, to pass legislation that will help him meet all his climate and jobs goals.

Polis is hopeful that Colorado and other states will no longer be on their own when it comes to remaking energy infrastructure. “It’ll be great to have a partner in our federal government rather than an adversary,” Polis says.