A wind turbine towers above Queen City, Missouri. Ameren, the electrical provider for much of eastern Missouri, acquired the High Prairie Renewable Energy Center in late 2020. (Allison Kite/Missouri Independent)
After several years of continual gains, Kansas and Missouri lost more than 7,200 combined clean energy jobs last year — primarily because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A report published last week by E2 and the Clean Energy Trust found that the Midwest, home to nearly one-quarter of the nation’s clean energy jobs, lost about 9% of those positions between the end of 2019 and end of 2020 despite a rebound in the second half of the year.
Both Kansas and Missouri’s losses — 9.4% and 8.7%, respectively — were roughly in line with the Midwest average. In both cases, the industry bounced back in the second half of the year. One clean energy advocate in Kansas said 2021 looked to be a good year for the sector.
“Despite the decline, what the data shows is that clean energy is rebounding back in every state and every county in the Midwest,” Micaela Preskill, Midwest advocate for E2, a nonpartisan business group, said in a press release. “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.”
Most of the jobs lost in Kansas and Missouri were in energy efficiency work, such as HVAC technicians. James Owen, executive director of Renew Missouri, said that was overwhelmingly due to the spread of COVID, noting that type of work requires crews to enter people’s homes or businesses.
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“Of course, when we didn’t have any kind of vaccinations and we had a lot of uncertainty about what was causing COVID to spread, people became reluctant to do it, utilities stopped promoting it,” Owen said.
Both states also lost jobs in renewable energy, which Owen attributed primarily to difficulties getting parts for wind turbines and solar arrays because of slowdowns brought on by the pandemic.
“Everything was slowed down because everything was delayed on that supply chain,” he said.
Renewable development was slower in Kansas, too, said Dorothy Barnett, executive director of the Climate and Energy Project, based in Hutchinson.
“I know that some wind development continued under pretty strict COVID protocols, and I think that showed development in some areas,” Barnett said.
At the height of the pandemic, according to the report, more than 3,500 Kansas clean-energy workers filed for unemployment, but the sector regained jobs faster than the rest of the state’s economy in the second half of the year.
The same is true in Missouri, where more than 9,300 clean-energy workers filed for unemployment during the crisis.
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