Coronavirus pandemic expected to slow transition to clean energy

A wind turbine in a corn field
A wind turbine towers over a corn field near Rothsay, Minn., in September 2019. The turbine is part of a wind and solar hybrid electrical generation system.
Dan Gunderson | MPR News 2019

The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered major sectors of the global economy, and renewable energy is not immune. Solar and wind projects are on hold. Government attention is, understandably, elsewhere.

So, what does that mean for progress on climate change?

“The big picture is that the supply side seems to be holding up OK, meaning that projects can get the parts they need, but the demand side is in big trouble,” said Dan Gearino, who’s been writing on the subject for Inside Climate News. “The companies that are developing projects are running into financial difficulties. They're running into difficulties just getting workers to be able to do work.”

And those delays come during a particularly crucial year. Many of the subsidies and tax credits these businesses are relying on for their projects to pencil out expire or ramp down this year.

“Much of what is putting pressure on them to do projects in 2020 is that the projects get more expensive after that,” Gearino said.

While businesses have not announced cancellations or significant delays to their projects, the number of new solar projects is expected to decrease for the first time since they were tracked. Wind projects, which were expected to have a banner year, will increase, but more modestly than expected at the start of the year.

“It almost becomes lost time in terms of meeting emissions goals,” Gearino said. “You also are taking a lot of attention away from political leaders who were otherwise going to spend a lot of time this year talking about their plans for reducing emissions.”

Just this week, the United Nations cancelled its key meeting for governments to set their carbon-cutting plans.

Gearino spoke about his reporting with MPR chief meteorologist and Climate Cast host Paul Huttner. You can hear the conversation by clicking play on the audio player above.

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