February 7, 2018

CT solar jobs flat as broader industry contracts

Contributed Photo
Contributed Photo
A solar array at Manchester's Allied Printing. Pictured is president and CEO John Sommers.

The U.S. solar industry has been going gangbusters since 2010, but it experienced a mostly expected slow down last year, according to annual job tallies conducted by the nonprofit Solar Foundation.

The foundation said Wednesday that the U.S. solar industry lost 9,800 jobs, or 3.8 percent of its workforce, last year. The industry had 250,271 workers as of Nov. 2017, the foundation said. It was the first decline since 2010.

Meanwhile, Connecticut ended the year with 2,168 solar jobs, flat from 2,174 in 2016. That number is up from about 200 in 2010. Connecticut currently ranks 20th in per-capita solar jobs.

The biggest losses last year were observed in California, Massachusetts and Nevada.

The industry last year was coming off record growth in 2016 -- which was fueled by the renewal of a key federal tax credit for solar projects in late 2015.

That year, a record 15.1 gigawatts of solar capacity was installed. That dipped in 2017 to an estimated 11.8 gigawatts.

"The decline in 2017 was expected following this unprecedented boom in utility-scale solar installations," the foundation's latest National Solar Jobs Census report said.

Installed capacity is projected to fall again this year to around 10.1 gigawatts.

One area of uncertainty is President Trump's imposition of tariffs on foreign-made solar panels, announced in January, which many solar installers have predicted would increase their costs and reduce employment and sales.

More than 70 percent of the 2,389 companies surveyed by the foundation said they had already begun to feel the impacts of the tariffs in 2017, because it was known a decision loomed.

The federal tax cuts passed in December are a "mixed bag" for the industry, the foundation said.

While the legislation did not eliminate the federal tax credit for solar, a lower corporate tax rate could make tax equity investment less valuable, which is expected to dampen investment. Tax equity investors provide upwards of half of solar financing.

The Solar Foundation defines a "solar job" as one in which a worker spends at least half of his or her time on solar-related work. That's a more broad definition than the one used by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The foundation's president, Andrea Luecke, delved into the differences in an op-ed published by The Hill last month.

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