BISMARCK — One in five clean energy employees in North Dakota is out of work because of the pandemic, according to a Midwest jobs study released Thursday, June 25.
The study by environmental policy group Enviro Entrepreneurs (E2) says North Dakota lost more than 1,800 clean energy workers in the first three months of the pandemic, a severe blow to what was one of the state’s fastest-growing industries. Since 2017, North Dakota has added clean energy jobs at three times the state’s rate of average job growth.
The coronavirus has been devastating for clean energy nationwide, and the sector has not yet received the same stimulus attention as its counterparts in the energy industry. According to E2’s analysis of U.S. Department of Labor Unemployment data, the clean energy sector has cut more than 131,600 jobs nationwide since March.
And while North Dakota has the smallest clean energy sector in the Midwest, the state is in the top tier for percentage of the workforce. Its growth rates have also been comparatively high. Last year, North Dakota saw the second-highest regional job growth in the energy efficiency sector, which holds the largest share of clean energy jobs in the Midwest.
Losses in North Dakota’s energy sector compound the damage done to the state’s oil and gas industry, which took a nosedive as national travel restrictions coincided with a price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia. According to a report released this week from North Dakota Job Service, more than 9,700 oil, gas and mining employees have filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic, up from about 2,200 in March.
The national clean energy boom of the last decade was jump-started in part by federal action in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, and many activists and policy analysts hope that the pandemic-related decline will prompt a similar wave of government support.
“Some of these jobs will come back,” said Micaela Preskill, the Midwest advocate for E2, "but for the industry to come back as strong as it was before and to continue growing and to be a real part of the story of economic recovery in our nation, we need leadership from lawmakers.”
E2’s clean energy jobs report also noted that a strong majority of North Dakota’s clean energy jobs belonged to small businesses in 2019, with most of them based in rural areas. The heaviest clean energy losses in North Dakota have come from the energy efficiency category, which includes manufacturers, electricians and construction workers.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 86,653 North Dakotans have filed for unemployment, according to North Dakota Job Service.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at firstname.lastname@example.org.