2020 job losses offset 2019 gains for Colorado clean energy sector

Susan Nedell
Mike Kruger

Employment in the clean energy industry continued to increase in Colorado in 2019, but dropped in 2020 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The long-term outlook remains bright, however, with the expectation state policies will promote renewable energy, clean vehicles and energy efficiency.

“Clean energy’s economic potential to Colorado remains incredibly high as the state continues to look ahead at recovery and rebuilding in the coming years,” said Susan Nedell,the Mountain West advocate for Environmental Entrepreneurs.

Mike Kruger, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Solar and Storage Association, said policies will support recovery for the sector and overall economy. “Lawmakers need to embrace clean and renewable energy as an economic-first policy to help Colorado grow out of this recession.”

Environmental Entrepreneurs joined with the Grand Junction Cleantech Business Coalition at an online event to announce the results of Clean Jobs Colorado 2020, an annual analysis of the clean energy and energy efficiency work force in Colorado. Environmental Entrepreneurs and the Colorado Solar and Storage Association produced the report.

Employment in renewable energy, clean vehicles, energy efficiency and other clean energy occupations in Colorado grew a total of nearly 2,800 to 62,420 in 2019. 

Between 2017 and 2019, employment in the sector increased nearly 9.6 percent, proportionally more than twice the overall employment growth in Colorado and eight times national job growth. During that span, the clean energy work force grew faster in Colorado than all but eight states.

At the end of 2019, the clean energy sector employed more people in Colorado than worked as bankers, farmers, nurses, teachers or waitresses.

Within the clean energy sector in Colorado, 36,092 worked in energy efficiency, 17,924 in renewable energy, 3,212 in clean vehicles, 3,072 in grid and storage and 2,120 in fuels.

More than 63 percent of clean energy workers were employed by businesses with fewer than 20 employees.

The Denver and Aurora metropolitan area accounted for more than half of employment in the sector with nearly 35,000 clean energy jobs. Boulder ranked second among metro areas with 7,373 jobs and Colorado Springs third with 4,666 jobs .

Grand Junction ranked sixth among seven metro areas evaluated in the analysis with 1,268 jobs — 801 in energy efficiency and 282 in renewable energy.

Between January and July of 2020, however, 5,961 clean jobs were lost in Colorado. That’s an 8.9 percent decline that wiped out the gains between 2017 and 2019. Monthly job losses in the sector in March, April and May more than offset gains in June and July.

Looking ahead, Nedell and Kruger said state policies intended to address climate change and reduce vehicle emissions are expected to create opportunities and jobs for the clean energy sector.

“Lawmakers have a responsibility to take advantage of one of the fastest-growing industries right here at home and put Coloradans back to work quickly in industries that span the state and will continue to grow and help Colorado compete at home and overseas for decades to come,” Nedell said.

The report noted that s2e Technologies has announced plans to develop a 220-unit apartment complex in downtown Grand Junction using solar power and other technologies to reduce the carbon footprint.