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More clean energy jobs and a reliable grid are priorities for Connecticut’s next legislative session

electric power lines
Chris Hunkeler

Connecticut lost 6% of energy jobs in 2020 compared to the national decrease of 9%, according to a state report released this week that looked at the job market during the first year of the pandemic.

Sarah Lehman, a project manager for BW Research, which collaborated on the report, said 3-in-10 clean energy businesses in Connecticut had to either lay off, furlough or reduce paid benefits for their employees.

“The majority of these, about 55%, were temporary layoffs and then about a third of businesses reported that they had to furlough their clean energy workers,” Lehman said. “We also looked at the use of relief and assistance programs and found that about two thirds of Connecticut's survey, clean energy businesses actually did not receive any emergency funds in 2020.”

To recover employment to pre-pandemic levels, Governor Ned Lamont invested $70 million last month to launch a workforce training program called Career ConneCT for the unemployed recent graduates and formerly incarcerated people who were among the hardest hit by COVID-19.

“The goal here is to foster collaboration on the front end, and build partnerships where they might not already exist,” said Niall Dammando, chief of staff at the state Office of Workforce Strategy. “We're really focused on ensuring that the right relationships are built on the front end, rather than ensuring that people are going out this in isolation, where services might already be provided in a region and people are trying to duplicate services, simply because they don't know they exist.”

Dammando said the Office of Workforce Strategy has widened what it considers to be clean energy. Some of the focus areas of the job program would be solar and wind energy, energy efficiency, resilience, transportation and more clean transportation models.

Grants will be issued every February and August for the next four years. The first application round closes on February 20.

The state’s Energy and Technology Committee also hosted a forum this week with industry leaders to explore how employing more people in the clean energy field would be beneficial to make sure that Connecticut has reliable electric grids — especially in the face of more extreme weather due to climate change.

State Senator Norm Needleman, the committee chair, said the state needs to avoid extended power outages caused by cold weather. He cited the cold wave that killed 250 people in Texas last February.

“I get terrified at the thought of an extended cold snap and having to tell my constituents that they may have to be prepared for rolling blackouts,” Needleman said. “This is not acceptable in the United States of America. It's just not what we expect. I don't think we should be making policies or living in a situation where this can happen.”

The electric grid operator, ISO New England, said the region is more resilient to cold weather with diverse energy sources, and credits infrastructure investments that could help prevent extended power outages.

“I think we need to understand that no power system in the world actually is designed to avoid the possibility of any control outages ever,” said Gordon van Welie, the grid’s president and CEO. “The issue really is you want to try and minimize those to the extent possible. And you want to make sure that you insure yourself as best as you can against the fact that that risk occurs at the wrong time.”

Natalie is a former news fellow with WSHU Public Radio.