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Pennsylvania solar jobs increased amidst a national decline

Pennsylvania added more than 1150 solar industry jobs over two years, outpacing growth in other energy industries like coal.

Jobs in the solar industry have declined nationwide for the second year in a row — though that trend isn’t true for many individual states, and Pennsylvania is one of them.

According to the 2018 National Solar Jobs Census, released by The Solar Foundation Tuesday, jobs in the solar industry declined nationally by 3.2 percent in 2018. Despite this, the number of people employed in Pennsylvania's solar industry rose by 10 percent, adding 371 jobs between 2017 and 2018. There were 4,219 solar jobs in the commonwealth, as of last year.

And the growth in jobs has meant it has been harder to find enough workers. The report found 40 percent of solar establishments in Pennsylvania reported is was “very difficult” to hire qualified applicants, which was higher than the national average of 26 percent. The Solar Foundation spokesperson says this is indicative of a competitive job market.

“2018 was the third consecutive year of strong solar jobs growth in the Keystone State,” she says. “As Pennsylvania looks to improve and expand state solar incentives and programs, the state could take its place as a key emerging solar market in the years to come.”

County-specific data isn't available for 2018, but Allegheny County recorded the fourth highest number of solar jobs in Pennsylvania at 275 in 2017.

According to a press release, the 2018 nationwide job decline was caused in part by solar companies' decision to delay projects while President Donald Trump was considering a tariff on solar equipment. Trump created those tariffs in Jan. 2018, increasing hardware costs for the solar industry.

Meanwhile, policy challenges and a difficult business climate may have contributed to lower jobs numbers in certain states such as Hawaii and Vermont, the press release says. But in other states, supportive politics and declining costs created a better environment for solar growth.

The solar industry rose in 29 states, including Ohio, Illinois, and New York.

click to enlarge Pennsylvania solar jobs increased amidst a national decline
Photo: The Solar Foundation
Solar job growth and reduction by state
Gov. Tom Wolf (D-York) announced in Nov. 2017 a new grant program to fund solar energy projects in Pennsylvania, followed by the approval of 78 new Solar Energy Program projects in March 2018. These included the installation of more rooftop- or -ground mounted solar power facilities that generate significant amounts of electricity.

“These projects approved today represent our forward-thinking approach to powering our state, and will provide numerous benefits to the businesses, schools, and community centers receiving the funding – while also benefiting our environment and promoting renewable energy in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said in a March 2018 press release.

Compared to other energy markets in Pennsylvania, solar's future is looking pretty bright. Solar jobs in the state grew 26 percent in 2017, adding 787 between 2016 and 2017. Pennsylvania coal jobs only grew 2.3 percent in 2017, and most analyst believe those numbers will quickly diminish as natural gas continues to rise.

Most recently, the state’s Department of Energy released its final draft of “Pennsylvania’s Solar Future” in Nov. 2018, a plan that aims to bring the state’s solar powered generation up from less than 1 percent to 10 percent by 2030.

While the solar industry may be going through some struggles, it has still come far in the past decade, with the amount of jobs increasing by 159 percent nationwide since The Solar Foundation released its first census in 2010. According to the 2018 census, new policy incentives in certain states combined with the recent backlog of projects means nationwide job growth is likely to improve. Survey respondents predicted that jobs in the solar industry will increase by 7 percent in the coming year.

“However, it will take exceptional leadership at the federal, state, and local levels to spur this growth and address the urgent challenge of climate change,” says The Solar Foundation president Andrea Luecke in a press release. “Expanding solar energy and storage across America will create high-quality jobs, reduce carbon emissions, boost local economies, and build resilient and adaptive communities.”