By - Jim Vess

Solar jobs fell for the second year in a row on uncertainties over federal and state policies

Energize Weekly, February 20, 2019

Solar industry employment dropped for the second straight year in 2018 as the sector was roiled by uncertainties over federal and state policies, according to the Solar Foundation’s National Solar Jobs Census.

As of November 2018, the sector employed 242,000 workers, a 3.2 percent decline, or 8,000 fewer jobs, over 2017, the census found. The Solar Foundation is a non-profit organization promoting the use of solar power.

The census report noted that since 2010, solar employment has grown 159 percent from 93,000 jobs and that there are now solar jobs in all 50 states.

Still, the industry faces several challenges. The uncertainty about the imposition of 30 percent tariffs on imported solar panels by the Trump administration led to delays in large utility-scale projects, the report said.

Policies in big solar states, such as California and Massachusetts, also took a toll, with both states losing jobs for a second consecutive year.

California utilities were under less pressure to meet renewable portfolio standards in the near term since they had made significant progress in recent years and non-residential installers continued to face policy uncertainties over rate structures.

These factors led to California posting its second lowest level in six years of added solar capacity in the third quarter of 2018.

California did pass new policies in 2018, including a rooftop solar mandate for new homes and an expansion of the renewable portfolio standard. But these steps will take time to bolster the market and employment growth, the report said.

About 40 percent of the country’s total solar capacity is in California, and it has traditionally been the largest market for solar jobs.

Massachusetts faced a delay in the release of its Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target program. It was finally issued in September 2018, but the state had to issue clarifying orders on net-metering and capacity ownership in February to resolve questions by developers and investors.

California saw the loss of 9,576 solar jobs in 2018, and Massachusetts had a drop of 1,320 jobs, according to the census. The solar industry now employs 76,838 people in California and 10,210 in Massachusetts.

Other states seeing the largest job losses were: North Carolina down 903 jobs, Arizona down 857 jobs, Maryland down 808 jobs and New Jersey down 696 jobs.

Nevertheless, 29 states had a growth in solar jobs, including Florida with a gain of 1,769 jobs, Illinois up 1,308 jobs, Texas up 739 jobs and New York up 718.

“In 2018, Florida overtook Massachusetts as the state ranking second to California in total solar jobs,” the census said. There are 10,358 solar jobs in Florida.

While solar represents just 2.4 percent of overall U.S. employment, the report said that it employs twice as many workers as the coal industry and five times as many as the nuclear industry.

Sixty-four percent of the jobs are in installation and project development, followed by 14 percent in manufacturing, and 12 percent in wholesale trade and distribution. The remainder are in operation and maintenance and other areas.

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