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  • Writer's pictureCorey L. Wilson

A Clean Energy Employment Rebound After COVID-19 is Coming (Part 1 of 2)

Updated: Nov 28

The U.S. can deliver 90% of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2035, according to a new report from the University of California, Berkeley, and experts say accelerating clean energy deployments could also play an important role in the country's economic recovery.

Building out renewables to achieve this target will add more than 500,000 jobs per year as well as $1.7 trillion in investments into the economy, without raising customer bills, the report found.

The country is experiencing a cost-crossover, as clean energy resources become cheaper than continuing to run existing fossil fuel resources, Sonia Aggarwal, vice president at Energy Innovation and co-author of an accompanying report outlining policy measures to achieve the 2035 target, told Utility Dive. "I see it as an amazing opportunity for America to create a bunch of jobs to decarbonize our electricity sector and do all of that without raising electric bills for customers at a time when budgets are awfully tight," she said.

Approximately 600,000 People Working in Clean Energy Lost Their Jobs

Unemployment data indicates that around 600,000 people working in clean energy lost their jobs in March and April alone, Bob Keefe, executive director of Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), told Utility Dive. But "these aren't jobs that have disappeared. These are jobs that are still there — we just need to get them back to work."

After the 2008 recession, the U.S. invested around $90 billion in clean energy, resulting in around 100,000 projects across the country and putting thousands of construction workers back on the job, according to Keefe.

"History shows us that clean energy is the best way to restart our economy," he said.

Most policy proposals for near-complete decarbonization target a 2050 deadline, according to the Berkeley report, but the falling costs of solar, wind and battery storage makes a 90% carbon-free grid by 2035 feasible.

Achieving that target will require retiring all coal plants by 2035 without building more fossil fuel plants, retaining existing hydropower and nuclear capacity, and reducing generation from natural gas plants to 10% of total annual electricity generation.

Within that mix, renewables and battery storage will provide 70% of annual generation, while hydropower and nuclear will provide another 20%. This portfolio will reduce wholesale electricity costs by about 10% by 2035 and avoid $1.2 trillion in environmental and health-related damages—including 85,000 premature deaths—through the middle of the century, the report's authors say.

This Scenario Would Support 500,000 More Jobs Per Year

And as the U.S. faces the prospect of recovering from the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this scenario would support 500,000 more jobs per year compared to a business-as-usual scenario.

"Everybody's asking what we can do to speed the recovery," David Wooley, professor at the UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy and co-author of the report, told Utility Dive. "And we think this strategy is very effective because of the large number of jobs it produces with no adverse impact on consumer costs, and very low costs in terms of government."

The researchers undertook the study because they sensed that the rapidly declining costs of utility-scale renewables weren't being captured in most plans, he said. What they found is "particularly in a slack labor market like we're in now because of the crisis, this can have a really powerful effect on employment. It's not the only thing you would do in regard to recovery, but it's one thing you could do."

This is the first of a two-part article and the content is courtesy of Kavya Balaraman at Utility Dive and was first published on June 9, 2020.

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