Report: Iowa lost 3,100 ‘clean energy’ jobs in 2020

By: - August 11, 2021 4:47 pm
Iowa is one of the nation's top producers of wind energy. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa should build on renewable energy as a way to fight climate change, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne said Sept. 1, 2021. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa lost 3,100 jobs in the “clean energy” and “clean vehicle” industries last year, a new report found. 

That marked a 9.7% year-to-year drop in jobs, the first in the six years the Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and Clean Energy Trust have analyzed federal employment data. 

The latest Clean Jobs Midwest study found that 28,900 Iowans worked in those industries in 2020. The report found that those businesses are recovering more quickly than other parts of the economy.

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, 5,000 Iowans in renewable energy and related jobs had filed for unemployment. But more than half of the lost jobs were recovered in the second half of the year. 

“Despite the decline, the data shows clean energy is rebounding back in every state and every county in the Midwest,” Micaela Preskill, E2 Midwest advocate, said in a statement. “Our state and federal lawmakers should take note: If you want these good-paying jobs in your backyard, you need to support the policies on the table that are primed to turbocharge clean energy and keep it growing.”

In the three years prior, the number of jobs in those industries had grown seven times the rate of overall state employment, the study found. 

Lawmaker blames 2018 bill for loss of energy jobs

Last year, the state lost 2,925 jobs in energy efficiency, or 13.8%, the most of any category, the groups said. They blamed Iowa lawmakers’ 2018 cuts in state energy efficiency programs for most of the losses. 

So did Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids. 

“The decline in clean energy jobs was not caused solely by the pandemic,” Hogg said in an interview. “It was also the result of bad policies passed by the Republican majority in the Iowa Legislature, such as slashing energy efficiency investments in 2018 in Senate File 2311. The report confirms that by noting that energy efficiency was the sector that was ‘hardest hit.’ Senate File 2311 not only cost us jobs, it also led Iowans to pay millions more to use more electricity. The Iowa Legislature should fix that mistake in 2022.”

The legislation allowed utilities to opt out of rebate programs for appliance purchases and the like. Some of those programs have shrunk. 

At the time, Sen. Michael Breitbach, R-Strawberry Point, called the programs a “hidden tax,” the Des Moines Register reported.

Republican leaders in the Senate did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Jordan Oster, energy outreach manager for the nonprofit Iowa Environmental Council, said energy efficiency is particularly important to Iowans and the economy. “Energy efficiency is one of the unsung points of the clean energy transition,” Oster said in an interview. 

He added that it is far cheaper to save power than to create new energy sources.

Energy efficiency, Iowa’s largest clean energy employer, now accounts for 18,240 jobs, the E2 report said.

Renewable energy jobs dropped 2.4%, grid and storage jobs, 7.5%, and “clean fuels” positions, 3.1%.

A breakdown by county, congressional district and state legislative district is available at cleanjobsmidwest.com.

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Perry Beeman
Perry Beeman

Senior reporter Perry Beeman has nearly 40 years of experience in Iowa journalism and has won national awards for environmental and business writing. He has written for The Des Moines Register and the Business Record, where he also served as managing editor. He also is former editorial director of Grinnell College. He co-authored the recently published book, "The $80 Billion Gamble," which details the lottery-rigging case of Eddie Tipton.

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