Report: Clean energy employment rebounds in R.I., qualified workers needed

CLEAN ENERGY JOBS rebounded in 2021, according to a new report released on Monday. In this photograph, guests tour one of the turbines of America's first offshore wind farm, owned by the Danish company, Orsted, off the coast of Block Island as part of a wind power conference Oct. 17, 2022. ASSOCIATED FILE PHOTO/DAVID GOLDMAN

PROVIDENCE – Rhode Island’s clean energy industry has begun to bounce back.

After shedding nearly 20% of the sector’s job during the height of the pandemic, the industry is repopulating although qualified workers are hard to find, according to a new report.

Clean energy added almost 500 jobs between the last quarters of 2020 and 2021, bringing total employment in the sector to 11,515, according to a report released Monday by the state Office of Energy Resources and the R.I. Commerce Corporation.

The 2022 R.I.Clean Energy Industry Report marks the eighth annual employment analysis of the sector. It is based on data culled from the 2022 U.S. Energy and Employment Report. 

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According to the report, one of the primary challenges to clean energy sector growth is finding enough trained workers to supply the necessary labor.

The largest number of new clean energy jobs were added in the energy efficiency and heating/cooling professions, which were among the hardest hit during the health crisis, according to the report. 

The industry gains came after an unprecedented decline in clean energy jobs. More than 2,500 Rhode Island workers lost their jobs in the sector between 2019 to 2021 due to COVID-19, according to the report. 

While clean energy employment is trending upwards again, it has not fully returned to pre-pandemic levels.

“The economic aftermath of COVID-19 resulted in the loss of roughly four years of clean energy job growth, sending Rhode Island’s clean energy economy back to 2016 employment levels,” the report states.

Installation, maintenance and repair jobs were hit the hardest during the pandemic because those jobs required access to consumer homes, most of which were in lock-down. 

According to this year’s report, clean energy installation and maintenance firms added 204 positions, up by 2.6%  from the previous year’s report. Clean transportation had the highest rate of growth with the creation of 95 new jobs, a 28% increase.

The report’s stated intention is to help lawmakers and other Ocean State stakeholders make forward-looking decisions.

Though there was no explanation of why the jobs data was delayed by more than a year, state officials heralded the news of the industry’s return.  

“Despite the challenges of prior years, overall state-level policy support and goals point toward a continuation of strong job growth in Rhode Island’s clean energy sector,” said Acting State Energy Commissioner Chris Kearns.

“Our state is committed to ensuring a clean energy future,” Kearns said. “and we expect the clean energy economy to not only return to pre-pandemic levels, but far surpass it in the years ahead.”

Gov. Daniel J. McKee signed historic legislation last year that will require 100% of Rhode Island’s electricity to be offset by renewable energy – primarily wind and solar power – by 2033. 

“The increase of clean energy jobs in Rhode Island will support the expansion of the blue economy for years to come,” said McKee in a statement.

The report’s conclusion cites the supply of labor as one of the industry’s major impediments. Nearly 60% of clean energy employers reported that they did not have an adequate number of qualified clean energy employees to meet their current needs.

Only four in ten surveyed clean energy employers said that the state’s current labor pool could meet their needs.

To increase the supply of clean energy workers the report recommended expanding outreach and communication to students and job seekers; expanding paid pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs; and developing scholarships and loan redemption programs for post-secondary schools.

Sam Wood is a PBN staff writer. Contact him at Wood@PBN.com

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