Iowa clean energy jobs still recovering after COVID-19

Nearly half of Iowa’s clean energy jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic were recovered in 2021, according to a new report released Wednesday.

Iowa lost 9.7% of its clean energy workforce in 2020, falling to about 28,900 jobs. By the end of 2021, more than 30,300 clean energy jobs were recorded in the state, a 5% increase from the previous year.

The energy efficiency sector supported 18,864 workers in Iowa and led the total number of clean energy jobs. The renewable energy and advanced transport sectors followed, generating 5,682 and 3,594 jobs respectively.

Jobs related to clean transportation – primarily electric and hybrid vehicles – were the fastest growing sector with a 25% increase.

The report was presented by the nonpartisan national business group Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) and the Midwest nonprofit Evergreen Climate Innovations. This was the seventh annual report analyzing clean energy jobs in 12 Midwestern states.

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“The new Clean Jobs Midwest Report highlights clean energy as an economic driver for Iowa,” Todd Miller, president of Ankeny-based 1 Source Solar, said in a press release. His solar business has grown from two to 40 employees.

While the Cut Inflation Act focuses on clean energy incentives that could significantly reduce overall U.S. emissions, it also supports oil and gas interests by mandating the leasing of large areas of public lands and off the coast of the country. It locks renewables and fossil fuels together: If the Biden administration wants solar and wind power on public lands, it must first offer new oil and gas leases.

Iowa’s clean energy job growth in 2021, when the economy was still below pre-pandemic levels, mirrored the 5% increase in clean energy employment for the entire Midwest. The region is now home to more than 714,000 clean energy jobs.

E2 and Evergreen Climate Innovations attributed the growth to cheaper clean energy technologies and more policies in place – both local and federal – that advance clean energy goals. The Inflation Reduction Act, for example, includes tax credits for solar projects, electric vehicles and energy efficiency technologies.

To make the most of these opportunities, E2 Midwest attorney Micaela Preskill has encouraged more workforce training programs that prioritize job creation in disadvantaged communities. She also called for further expansion of the power grid and more state policies that encourage job growth in clean energy.

Illinois and Michigan, which lead the Midwest in clean energy jobs, were highlighted for their policies that support clean energy transitions. Iowa has seen a return to renewable energy production like solar and wind power.

“The clean energy industry is poised for growth like we’ve never seen before,” Preskill said. “There has never been more stability and certainty in the marketplace…A transition to a clean economy that supports everyone is within reach.”

Brittney J. Miller is an environmental reporter for The Gazette and a corps member of Report for America, a national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.

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