In its 9th annual National Solar Jobs Census, The Solar Foundation presents a year in review for the solar industry, highlighting trends in workforce numbers, demographics, wage and salaries, and key factors affecting the industry. The Solar Foundation's website has a copy of the full report, as well as a summary infographic of key facts and figures. Below are some of the key highlights and takeaways from the report.
Short term loss, long-term growth for solar jobs
Nationally, solar jobs are down by 3.2% from 2017. This is due in large part to two factors. The first is the effects of the Section 201 tariffs placed on solar modules and cells causing uncertainty for utility-scale developers, where the tariffs hit the hardest. Utility-scale projects – which account for large job numbers – were deferred or even cancelled after the announcement of the tariffs. The other factor was changes in state policies in some of the larger solar markets that caused jobs losses in those states. Still, 29 states showed growth in their local markets - including Montana.
Despite the short-term dip, the long-term trends are still impressive. In the past five years, solar employment has grown 70%, adding 100,000 jobs, and grew six times faster than the overall economy. Importantly, the industry is expecting a bounce back in 2019 and should see growth once again.
Policy continues to drive market growth
The Section 201 tariffs on solar panels and cells, as well as other state policies, played a large role in shrinking the market in the end of 2017 and into 2018. The Census shows that, in general, 50% of the industry identified policy as the top challenge to growing a profitable solar businesses. In Montana, this couldn't be more true. Every-other-year the industry braces itself for a legislative session that brings hostility towards key policies like net metering, state tax incentives, and more. This session is no different. Even outside of the hallways in Helena, we face hostility in many other ways – including the current general electric rate case, which could decimate the solar industry in Montana. Montana needs sound and fair policies that support the growth of this industry.
Solar jobs are good, well-paying jobs
Census data show that wages for solar jobs are higher than the median average of all occupations of $18.12/hr. This holds true for both entry-level, and mid-level positions. Further, solar jobs are accessible jobs. The data shows that solar businesses required previous experience for 60% of all new hires. However, that doesn't necessarily require a bachelor's or advanced degree. The report notes that, "Establishments in the installation and project development sector required a Bachelor’s degree for only 15% of new hires." National training and certificate programs can provide the experience that new-hires need to enter the industry.
Solar is a small business industry
According to the report, "most establishment (77%) have fewer than 50 employees. About 30% of establishments have five or fewer employees." Here in Montana, our solar installation businesses have an average of 3 full time employees and 2 part time employees. These are small, local businesses that hire local employees.
Montana is lagging behind, despite growth
It is exciting to see Montana as one of the 29 states that saw growth, but looks can be deceiving. Montana ranks 49th in Solar Jobs, and 47th in Solar Jobs Per Capita. You may think it's hard to get any worse, but this is actually lower than Montana's 2017 rankings, which came in at 48th and 44th respectively. This means that even though the industry is growing, we are being outpaced by almost every other state. Montana has an excellent solar resource, comparable to places with large solar markets like Florida. In order to allow this industry to reach its full potential, we bring an end the hostile atmosphere and begin nurturing this industry that is full of small, local, well-paying jobs. We celebrate the growth we see for Montana, but stand steadfastly ready to protect rooftop solar and the solar industry from more speed bumps and road blocks so that growth can continue.
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