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Energy News Network: Despite Grim Outlook, Advanced Energy Could Help Lead Economic Recovery, Experts Say

Posted by Kari Lydersen on Sep 21, 2020

Energy News Network covered advanced energy's role in revitalizing economies after the pandemic, featuring AEE's Illinois jobs data example, quoting AEE's Daniel Bloom. Read excerpts below and the entire Energy News Network piece here

Advanced energy — including energy efficiency and renewable power  — provide far more jobs than hotels and motels or the retail industry, according to a recent analysis by the business group Advanced Energy Economy.

Yet while there’s been much focus on the pandemic’s effect on those industries, AEE says, not enough attention has been paid to what the government could do to protect and bolster advanced energy jobs. 

AEE and other experts also note that advanced energy jobs have much potential to help communities including rural residents and people of color most impacted by the pandemic’s health and economic effects...

AEE cites federal and state data in noting that hotels and motels employed 1.7 million people and retail stores 3 million last year, compared to 3.6 million in advanced energy jobs like renewables, energy efficiency and electrified transportation. The coal and oil industries employed just 1 million, according to the group’s analysis. 

Before the pandemic hit, the advanced energy sector was growing robustly, with 77,000 added jobs in 2019 compared to 2018, almost double the country’s overall job growth rate. And before the pandemic, AEE predicted 5% growth in advanced energy jobs in 2020. 

But 2019’s job growth was wiped out even in the early days of the coronavirus, with more than 100,000 advanced energy jobs lost just by March of 2020, according to BW Research, a firm with whom AEE works...

AEE last week released a report highlighting Illinois’s situation, which they say is especially significant since clean energy legislation being hashed out by working groups, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s support, could reverse the job losses and help surpass pre-pandemic clean energy job levels. 

In Illinois, 137,300 people worked in advanced energy in 2019, more than worked in supermarkets and grocery stores (113,686) and more than twice those in real estate (58,810), according to AEE’s analysis. (While those are federally-recognized employment categories, there is no similar category for advanced energy, so groups like AEE do their own calculations)...

And AEE says that a measure being considered for new energy legislation could mean significant increases in energy efficiency jobs. That would be reversing a clause in Illinois’s 2017 Future Energy Jobs Act that exempts large commercial and industrial electricity customers from required participation in energy efficiency programs run by the state’s utilities. 

AEE policy principal Daniel Bloom said that without the large customers participating in energy efficiency programs, the state cannot tap the “low-hanging fruit” of energy efficiency upgrades that could reduce emissions and create many jobs including in the HVAC sector. 

“It just makes sense,” Bloom said. Removing the exemption “will lead to an increase in energy efficiency jobs across the entire state of Illinois, including downstate where we have large industrial customers...”

Bloom said that highlighting how many people clean energy employs compared to sectors like retail, hotels and real estate can help legislators and their constituents understand just how important clean energy is to economic recovery. 

“Advanced energy is poised to lead the economic recovery from COVID-19, and that’s getting attention in the governor’s working group process,” Bloom said. “Where we’re headed in Illinois is a really promising direction … but getting the policy right matters...”

Bloom noted that HVAC and other energy efficiency-related jobs tend to be well-paying, often union jobs that could be an option for people laid off in other sectors impacted by the pandemic and related recession, including service and manufacturing. 

“If there is an emphasis in legislation on workforce development, you can actually gear [out-of-work people] for a sustainable job that will carry forward for decades,” Bloom said. He said training people in rural and economically depressed areas downstate for energy efficiency jobs can help further the state’s goals of equity in the clean energy economy. 

“The situation with COVID shines light on the fact that low-income communities need to be a focal point leading the advanced energy revolution in Illinois,” Bloom said. 

He said AEE would also like to see incentives for combined heat and power — where an industrial customer’s excess steam is used to generate electricity on-site — in new legislation. Such installations could create jobs and reduce emissions and peak demand for electricity, Bloom noted. Meanwhile jobs could also be created and emissions and peak demand reduced by advanced transportation investments including using electric buses for energy storage, Bloom said.

He added that reducing peak demand and overall energy demand helps reduce all customers’ bills, which is most beneficial for low-income customers who spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy...

Bloom noted that HVAC and other energy efficiency-related jobs tend to be well-paying, often union jobs that could be an option for people laid off in other sectors impacted by the pandemic and related recession, including service and manufacturing. 

“If there is an emphasis in legislation on workforce development, you can actually gear [out-of-work people] for a sustainable job that will carry forward for decades,” Bloom said. He said training people in rural and economically depressed areas downstate for energy efficiency jobs can help further the state’s goals of equity in the clean energy economy. 

“The situation with COVID shines light on the fact that low-income communities need to be a focal point leading the advanced energy revolution in Illinois,” Bloom said. 

He said AEE would also like to see incentives for combined heat and power — where an industrial customer’s excess steam is used to generate electricity on-site — in new legislation. Such installations could create jobs and reduce emissions and peak demand for electricity, Bloom noted. Meanwhile jobs could also be created and emissions and peak demand reduced by advanced transportation investments including using electric buses for energy storage, Bloom said.

He added that reducing peak demand and overall energy demand helps reduce all customers’ bills, which is most beneficial for low-income customers who spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy.

Read the entire Energy News Network piece here.

Topics: AEE In The News