Clean energy jobs poised for continued growth in Wisconsin

Jobs in the sector fell in the first half of 2020, but a strong second-half recovery bodes well for the fast-growing industry.
Renewableenergyjobs Panel

For the first time since Clean Jobs Midwest began tracking Wisconsin clean energy jobs in 2017, Wisconsin clean energy jobs declined during 2020’s pandemic-wracked economy. However, the second half of the year showed significant recovery and a strong promise for the future.

Clean energy companies employed 69,343 Wisconsinites at the end of 2020, a 9.6% drop from 2019, according to the 2021 Clean Jobs Midwest report. At one point, more than 11,300 Wisconsin clean energy workers had filed for unemployment, but the state’s clean energy sector rebounded to grow by 6.2% in the second half of the year. Last year’s job losses were a dramatic change of pace for the industry. In the three years leading up to 2020, clean energy jobs grew two times as fast as overall statewide employment. Despite the industry’s overall decline, more than twice as many Wisconsinites worked in clean energy in 2020 than the number of lawyers, accountants and auditors, web developers, and real estate agents combined.

“Now in its sixth year, the Clean Jobs Midwest report offers a snapshot of the Midwest’s clean energy industry,” Ian Adams, managing director at Clean Energy Trust says. “These jobs prove to be resilient, rebounding faster than the overall Midwest workforce. We see the clean energy industry as ripe with opportunity for innovation and growth and look forward to supporting the impressive climate entrepreneurs in this space.”

While clean energy suffered like many sectors of the economy in 2020, the prospects for growth remain high given the climate policy proposals from the Biden administration, along with state leadership.

“2020’s unprecedented crisis showed why Wisconsin needs a strong clean energy economy more than ever before,” notes Micaela Preskill, Midwest advocate of the national, nonpartisan business group E2. “Despite the decline, what the data shows is that clean energy is rebounding back in every state and every county in the Midwest. Our state and federal lawmakers should take note: if you want these good paying jobs in your backyard, you need to support the policies on the table that are primed to turbocharge clean energy and keep it growing.”

According to the analysis, energy efficiency jobs saw the biggest drop, declining about 11.9% 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 grid and storage [4.3%] and clean fuels [5.8%].

Several clean energy sectors did see job gains in 2020, including electric vehicles (EVs) and hybrid electric vehicles, which combined now employs about 1,369 workers as an increasing number of automakers announced shifts to producing 100% zero-emission vehicles.

Other findings from the 2021 Clean Jobs Midwest report:

  • Energy efficiency, Wisconsin’s largest clean energy employer, now employs 55,986.
  • Renewable energy now employs 6,121, including 1,797 in wind and 3,768 in solar.
  • Clean vehicles now employs 4,808 Wisconsinites.
  • Grid and storage now employs 2,081 Wisconsinites.
  • Clean fuels now employs 347 Wisconsinites.
  • Small businesses drive Wisconsin’s clean energy sector — in 2020, 69% of Wisconsin’s clean energy businesses employed fewer than 20 people.
  • Clean energy employed workers in all 72 counties in Wisconsin.
  • Clean energy employed workers in all eight congressional districts in Wisconsin.
  • 6% of Wisconsinites employed in clean energy are veterans.

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.

The shift to a cleaner economy could create major new opportunities for job seekers throughout the region, including in communities impacted by the ongoing decline of other parts of the energy sector such as coal, oil, and gas, the Clean Jobs Midwest report notes. It could also create consumer and business savings through energy efficiency and lower-cost renewable energy, which is especially impactful for low- and moderate-income communities, rural communities, and communities of color, especially as the economy continues to recover.

“We don’t talk enough about how clean energy makes sense economically and is smart for business,” says Mahanth Joishy, city of Madison fleet superintendent. “It can connect both red counties and blue counties politically. In the city of Madison, for example, we are making our fleet of 1,400 vehicles more sustainable and that benefits air quality, saves the city money, and invests and creates jobs in a growing industry, including right here in-state. All of the biodiesel vehicles and North America’s first electric fire truck operated by Madison are Wisconsin-made. The advanced transportation industry will continue to grow and as the industry gets cleaner, everyone benefits, and the Midwest could be the global leader in this revolution.

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