Solar Foundation's Luecke discusses jobs outlook for industry

Can the solar industry continue to develop jobs without the extension of federal grant programs? During today's OnPoint, Andrea Luecke, executive director at the Solar Foundation, discusses the newly released National Solar Jobs Census 2011. Luecke says 50 percent of solar firms are expected to add workers in the next year. She explains why, despite policy and regulatory uncertainty, the solar industry has continued to show growth.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is Andrea Luecke, executive director at the Solar Foundation. Andrea, thanks for coming on the show.

Andrea Luecke: Thanks, Monica. Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Andrea, the Solar Foundation just released a new report on national solar jobs numbers for 2011. It updates last year's numbers. Why did you feel there was a need to update those numbers on a yearly basis?

Andrea Luecke: Well, as you know, the solar industry is an economic powerhouse and for the first time we're showing that it's also a jobs creator. Our census shows that there are over 100,000 solar jobs at over 17,000 employment sites nationwide. It also shows that over the last 12 months, and we didn't have this information before, but over the last 12 months, the solar industry has created jobs nearly 10 times faster than the overall economy. So this is tremendous news. We had to get it out there. It's important, especially in this economy with so much unemployment right now.

Monica Trauzzi: So, what is the projected growth over the next year in the United States and do you expect that some of those numbers might shift as a result of the Solyndra story?

Andrea Luecke: Well, our census found that over half of all -- excuse me, nearly half of all employers plan to increase their workforce over the next 12 months, which would create nearly 24,000 new jobs and that's a growth rate of 24 percent. And we do not believe that the Solyndra issue will have affected our overall numbers. Solyndra was just one company and, in terms of our due diligence, we actually removed Solyndra and some other companies that were recently announced through the shakeout from our numbers, so that they're not included. It was a little bit preemptive.

Monica Trauzzi: So the report says that, as you said, 50 percent of those companies will have new jobs coming online. Where is the funding coming from for those jobs? Are we talking about government funding or is this all private sector investments?

Andrea Luecke: Well, private sector investments are, you know, record breaking right now in renewable energy. Between 2009 and 2010 global private investments increased by 30 percent. It's never been higher, but, yes, there's also some government investments, of course. With all energy sources there are government investments and policies and investments in clean energy are incredibly important, but they have to be long-term policy investments. And policies like 1603 and the ITC and the MITC and the loan guarantee program, renewable portfolio standards, solar carve-outs, state and local rebate programs, all of those are important. We need a sequence of long-term policies in order to really reach nationwide scale.

Monica Trauzzi: And SEIA, the Solar Energy Industries Association, has been pushing for the 1603 Treasury grant program to be extended at the end of this year. If it isn't, then how does that affect the jobs numbers?

Andrea Luecke: Well, it will affect the jobs numbers. It will crush the entire industry. We will still manage, because, like I said, it's a sequence of policies that are at play, not just one policy that will make or break the industry. But a new report that they just released shows that if the 1603 is not extended, it jeopardizes the creation of 34,000 jobs. So, yes, it does impact it. All policies impact it. Unfortunately, the way it is, the solar industry, just like all energy forms are reliant on smart investments. But, of course, I have to point out that the solar industry and other renewables receive only a mere fraction of what the fossil fuel industries receive.

Monica Trauzzi: Is there a particular segment within the solar industry that's seeing more growth?

Andrea Luecke: Yes. Well, we found that there's growth across the entire value chain, you know, manufacturing, installation, sales and distribution, utility and other, which represents finance, legal, R&D growth across the entire value chain, growth within all 31 occupations that we identified and in all 50 states. The fastest growing is sales and distribution. I think this is a part of the value chain that's often overlooked. And we found that over the next 12 months they will create 6000 new jobs at a tremendous, unbelievable 35 percent growth rate. And installation is also growing very quickly, expecting to create 13,000 new jobs next year. And manufacturing is expected to create another three or 4000 new jobs growing at 14 percent next year.

Monica Trauzzi: One of the things we hear about constantly on this show is the uncertainty that many industries face right now because of lack of leadership they say from Congress on energy policy and climate. Why doesn't it seem like the solar industry is hit by that same level of uncertainty?

Andrea Luecke: Well, there's a tremendous amount of uncertainty in terms of political support and market support. We, unfortunately, have to operate within all of that uncertainty and I think the thing to highlight though is that despite all of this uncertainty, we have been able to create jobs in the worst economy since the Great Depression when all other industries are cutting jobs. The fossil fuel electric generation had a negative job growth of 2 percent. The overall economy had a positive job growth of only 0.7 percent. I mean the solar industry is hugely beneficial in terms of creating jobs. But, yes, it is suffering from some of the market instability.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we're going to end it there. Thank you for coming on the show, nice to see you.

Andrea Luecke: Thank you, Monica, you're welcome.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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