Wisconsin continues to add renewable energy jobs, even as the industry saw a national slowdown in 2018.
That’s according to the latest Clean Jobs Midwest report from national advocacy groups Environmental Entrepreneurs and Clean Energy Trust.
The report found Wisconsin added 1,786 jobs in the clean energy industry in 2018, a 2.4 percent increase over the previous year.
Much of that growth was in the energy efficiency sector, which covers jobs like manufacturing energy efficient appliances and installing efficient lighting or heating systems. Wisconsin employers created 842 jobs in this area last year, 1.4 percent more than in 2017.
Renewable energy generation was the second largest category in the state. Wisconsin companies added 303 jobs in this sector last year, a 5.4 percent increase from the previous year.
But the number of renewable energy jobs across the country declined in 2018, due in part to increased tariffs placed on imported solar panels.
Micaela Preskill, Midwest advocate for Environmental Entrepreneurs, said state and federal policies like the tariffs can greatly impact clean energy jobs.
“Solar panel tariffs, planned rollbacks of vehicle mileage and emissions standards and delays of energy efficiency standards — these are already impacting some sectors of the clean energy economy and are casting foreboding shadows over others,” Preskill said.
Tyler Huebner, executive director of advocacy group RENEW Wisconsin, said Wisconsin’s solar industry currently relies on small installations.
“The cost of the panels is not as big of a driver for that market because it is very cost effective for those types of entities, homes and businesses, to install solar,” Huebner said. “Nationally, where there’s other really large scale solar projects, where the cost of the panels is a larger percentage of the project, then that little bit of change in the tariff price can have an outsized effect.”
Huebner said the tariffs could have more of an impact in coming years with several large solar farms planned for Wisconsin.
“We hope those tariffs kind of go away and work themselves out in the market so that our solar expansion isn’t affected by those kind of tariffs,” Huebner said.
The Clean Jobs report found a shortage of workers is also affecting clean energy companies’ ability to grow. Nearly 88 percent of the surveyed companies in Wisconsin reported it was “somewhat” or “very” difficult to find employees.
Despite these challenges, Wisconsin companies appear to be optimistic about the future of clean industry. The report found companies expect to add more than 6,000 jobs in 2019, slightly ahead of the anticipated national growth rate.