Pandemic affects green energy job growth in Texas

Jordan Smith
By Jordan Smith
For business

(September 22, 2020)

Green energy job growth may recover in Texas.

Green energy job growth in Texas was on the rise prior to the pandemic, averaging around double the overall increase in employment during 2019. However, a recent study by the Texas Advanced Energy Business Association shows that COVID-19 hit green energy employment hard. Even so, advocates hope that the growth of renewables and support for energy efficiency initiatives mean that the sector could lead an economic recovery in the near future.

Jobs grew in the advanced energy sector – which includes renewables, electric vehicles, and energy efficiency – by 4 percent in 2019. That growth took total clean energy employment in Texas to more than 254,000, making green energy a larger employer than the real estate sector (230,000) and chemical manufacturing (83,000).

Based on a survey carried out last fall, industry leaders were expecting to expand employment by 5 percent this year. However, 10 percent of clean energy jobs, or about 25,000 positions, were quickly disappeared following the outbreak of the coronavirus. Although some of these jobs returned by the end of June, advanced energy employment remains well below its pre-pandemic level.

Upbeat message despite job losses

Despite the hit to green jobs, Suzanne Bertin, head of the Business Alliance, remains hopeful that the sector will play an important role in economic and job growth going forward.

Pointing to Texas’ reputation as a “leader in advanced energy technology, like solar and wind generation and energy storage,” Bertin argued, “The advanced energy industry is resilient and is prepared to bounce back and lead the economic recovery, as long as Texas continues to capitalize on the state’s competitive energy market to facilitate investment in secure, clean, reliable, affordable advanced energy.”

Under conditions where solar and wind power generation capacity will grow significantly this year in spite of the pandemic, Bertin’s optimism may be justified. Approximately 3 gigawatts of new solar generation are expected to be connected to the Texas electricity grid this year, according to IHS Market data. In spite of lockdowns earlier in the year, IHS also notes that the vast majority of solar projects remain on schedule.

Battery storage capacity in Texas is expected to more than triple from its level in December 2019 by the end of this year, reaching 360 megawatts. Proposals to build over 7 gigawatts of storage capacity have been filed with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, but it is worth remembering that typically only a fraction of such proposals are ultimately completed.

As for wind energy generation, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects it will account for 24 percent of power generation in Texas during 2020. These estimates mean wind power will produce more energy than coal over the course of this year. By the end of 2020, the EIA estimates that around 10 gigawatts of new wind power capacity will have been installed on the grid since 2018. This increase could likely result in job growth in the renewable sector.

Drawing on experience

In an interview on the “Political Climate” podcast, former Public Utility Commission of Texas chairman Pat Wood agreed that the clean energy sector has a bright future. He recounts his involvement in establishing the market-based system for energy within the ERCOT-managed region during the late 1990s and argued that this was a crucial step in encouraging the development of wind power.

The resulting job growth made the renewables sector an “economic development gift,” according to Wood. While Wood advocated letting the market drive the growth of the green energy sector, others are calling for a government stimulus to help it recover from the blow struck by the pandemic.

In a recent letter addressed to Texas’ Congressional Delegation, the Sierra Club’s Loan Star Chapter laid out the case for stimulus spending. “Before March, clean energy had been one of the US economy’s biggest and fastest-growing employment sectors, growing 10.4 percent since 2015 to 3.4 million jobs at the end of 2019,” notes the letter. “…we ask that you prioritize inclusion of specific policy support for clean energy workers and businesses, which are important to the Texas economy and our public health.”

Among the proposals called for by the Sierra Club are extending tax credit support for renewable energy projects, and expanding incentives to develop wind, solar, battery storage, and energy efficiency projects. According to the Sierra Club, these measures would “build resilience for Texas communities, protect existing jobs and economic investment, maintain progress on clean air and clean energy improvements, and lay the foundation to support a vibrant future in Texas.”

 

Jordan Smith is a freelance journalist and translator covering issues related to energy, the environment, and politics. His work has appeared on the independent news site Opposing Views and at the Canadian Labour Institute.

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