Clean Energy Has Taken a Hit. Will It Rebound?

By: - May 19, 2020 12:00 am

Gen Nashimoto of Luminalt installs solar panels in Hayward, California, late last month. The pandemic has devastated the clean energy workforce, including solar installers, but experts say renewables still have a bright future. Ben Margot/The Associated Press

Read Stateline coverage of the latest state action on coronavirus.

Late in April, Warren Leon convened a meeting of leaders from around the country who are overseeing their states’ transitions to clean energy. He feared the group — 14 states plus the District of Columbia that have committed to 100% clean power goals — would have had its ambitions set back by the ongoing pandemic.

“I thought some states might say, ‘Everything’s on hold; we can’t really focus on that,’” said Leon, who directs the newly formed 100% Clean Energy Collaborative, a group of state officials sharing information and strategies about renewable and carbon-free electricity. “That didn’t happen. All the states were enthusiastically engaged on the issue and wanting to move forward as fast as possible.”

That optimism was a surprise, given the battering the clean energy industry has taken over the past two months. The pandemic has slashed state budgets, devastated the clean energy workforce and set back many projects. State restrictions have kept many workers at home, especially in fields such as solar installation and energy efficiency that can require home visits.

Some companies have struggled to finalize permits or investments for major projects, with uncertainty looming over both government and the private sector. There also are questions about how the pandemic may reshape the industry.

Energy usage patterns have shifted radically during lockdowns, and lingering changes such as telecommuting may require new strategies to meet altered demands. Meanwhile, disruptions to overseas supply chains have some observers wondering whether domestic manufacturing will need to scale up in the future.

But leaders from California to New York to Washington say the disruption is just a speed bump. In the states that have set firm clean energy targets, utilities, investors and developers have been preparing to meet the demand created by state mandates, and that work isn’t stopping.

“There’s no slowing down, and there’s no backing off,” said Doreen Harris, director of large-scale renewables at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. “If anything, the commitment has only been redoubled.”

Story continues after map

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Alex Brown
Alex Brown

Based in Seattle, Alex Brown covers environmental issues for Stateline. Prior to joining Stateline, Brown wrote for The Chronicle in Lewis County, Washington state.