COVID-19 Layoffs Slam Clean-Energy Sector in New Jersey, Nationally

But loss of 4% of state’s clean-energy workforce likely just the beginning, experts advise, with deeper cuts on the way
Credit: 272447 from Pixabay
Installing solar panels

The clean-energy sector has been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic as up to 106,400 jobs were lost in March across the nation, and those numbers could worsen in the next few months, according to a new analysis.

By the end of the second quarter, the sector could shed a total of a half-million jobs, said Phil Jordan, a vice president and principal in BW Research Partnership, the Massachusetts firm that compiled the analysis.

“Sadly, these (losses) represent just the beginning,’’ Jordan said on a conference call with reporters. “April is likely to be much worse.’’

If so, it would likely add clean energy, one of the faster growing segments of the economy, to those sectors to be decimated by the outbreak of the coronavirus. Since 2015, clean-energy jobs have grown 10.4%. More than 3.4 million people are employed in the sector.

NJ’s clean-energy sector takes a hit

In New Jersey, the sector lost 2,345 workers, far less than other states with more substantial clean-energy economies. But it still represented 4.1% of the state’s total clean-energy workforce, which employed roughly 57,130 people at the end of 2019.

“All of this came to a screeching halt last month,’’ said Bob Keefe, executive director of E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), a business group involved in pushing for clean energy. If Congress doesn’t act, the job losses could top a half-million in the next few months, he said.

As in other states, the hardest-hit part of the clean-energy sector involves firms working on energy efficiency projects. Directives to utilities to limit face-to-face contact with those customers has led to stop-work orders on energy efficiency projects, according to industry officials.

“Right now, nearly all of our utility clients have directed us to stop all of our site work, grinding our entire business to a halt,’’ said Lloyd Kass, a vice president in charge of policy and business development at Newark-based Lime Energy. The company already has furloughed about two-thirds of its 300 employees.

Pennsylvania, California — biggest losers

“The impact on our business has been devastating,’’ agreed Tina Bennett, president and CEO of CMC Energy Services, another energy efficiency company based in Fort Washington, PA. The Keystone state lost 6,800 clean-energy jobs, second only to California, which shed 19,949 jobs.

The clean-energy executives hope that Congress includes them in whatever job stimulus package they come up with in the next few months, including an extension of tax credits that are due to expire by the end of this year.

According to the analysis of unemployment data, energy efficiency lost more jobs than any other sector of the clean-energy industry in March, with nearly 70,000 people being cut loose. The losses in the energy efficiency sector accounted for about two-thirds of all clean-energy unemployment filings — as electricians, plumbers, construction workers, energy auditors and others were unable to enter homes, offices and other building because of the coronavirus quarantines.

But the grim picture of the sector has further implications for New Jersey, which wants to switch to having half of its electricity produced by clean energy by 2030 and 100% by 2050. The Murphy administration is touting the clean-energy sector as driving a robust green economy.