No better time to modernize America's energy infrastructure
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Mounting job losses caused by the COVID-19 crisis are hammering the clean energy sector and threatening two decades’ worth of progress in expanding the share of renewable resources used to power the U.S. economy.

Mandatory stay-at-home orders and the shutting down of most businesses are squeezing all corners of the economy, and the 3.4 million Americans working in the clean energy sector—many of them in the construction trades—have been hit hard, too.

The clean energy sector lost nearly 600,000 jobs in March and April—17 percent of its workforce. That figure could top 850,000, or 25 percent of the sector’s talent pool, by the end of June if things continue as they are now, according to new analysis of Department of Labor data by E2 and BW Research Partnership. Fortunately, targeted, fiscally sound policy options are available to jumpstart this historically fast-growing sector and move clean energy forward as we recover.

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With so much of the economy shut down and investors left waiting on the sidelines, clean energy companies are facing a capital liquidity crunch.

So far, though, direct federal financial support for renewables and other energy companies has not been forthcoming, either in the first three rescue packages approved by Congress or in the $3 trillion HEROES Act passed by the House.

With the Senate not expected to consider stimulus spending again until June, there’s time to consider actions that improve the efficiency and resiliency of our energy infrastructure and support the transition to a lower carbon economy.

We don’t need to start from scratch. Of most immediate benefit to folks working in clean energy is extending the deadlines for renewable energy projects to qualify for tax incentives. Making the credits convertible into upfront payments to overcome the current logjam in the tax equity market would instantly provide companies with some breathing room.

Congress and the Trump administration may need to dedicate trillions of dollars more in aid and consider stimulus spending to keep the economy from slipping deeper into a recession. Using a portion of that funding to modernize the nation’s outdated energy infrastructure would benefit our country well beyond the current crisis.

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Renewable energy has made remarkable gains over the past decade. Targeted federal investment in physical infrastructure can maintain that momentum while creating jobs, sparking economic activity, and improving environmental performance.

Two Senate bills already introduced with bipartisan support offer an excellent jumping-off point for an energy-focused infrastructure stimulus package.

The first, the America’s Transportation Infrastructure Act authored by Sen. John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoCourt upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump nominates controversial, longtime acting head of BLM as director | Ernst sinks vote on Trump EPA nominee | Massive dust storm from Africa hits Texas, Louisiana Ernst sinks vote on Trump EPA nominee MORE (R-Wyo.), would strengthen resiliency standards for roads, bridges, and other transportation projects funded with federal dollars. The bill also would update the environmental review process to reduce unnecessary delays to critical infrastructure projects.

The second, the American Energy Innovation Act, is a compilation of more than 50 energy-related measures, including initiatives to modernize the nation’s electric system, advance the development of storage technology, and integrate more renewable energy sources into the power-generation mix.

Many renewable energy companies were enjoying banner years before the shutdown, and should again if they can get back to work. Most installations of residential solar panels, batteries, and efficiency upgrades, for instance, have stopped because they require access to customers’ homes. The Solar Energy Industries Association reports rooftop solar installations dropped by 40 percent since COVID-19.

State clean energy targets and the expansion of residential energy choice programs helped make 2019 one of the best years on record for renewables.

Small changes in existing programs can provide clean energy companies with critical help during the economic downturn. Moving forward, Congress should shift its focus from rescue to recovery with longer-term investments that create a robust, efficient and resilient economy.

As Congress looks for targeted and timely ways to prime the economy for recovery, it should seize this opportunity to modernize the nation’s power system with investments that will pay dividends for the economy and the environment for generations.

The clean energy sector has projects ready to go. All that’s needed is the green light from Congress.

Jeff Kupfer is President of ConservAmerica. Heather Reams is the Executive Director of Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions.