Solar Foundation's Luecke discusses impact of net-metering debate on job growth

With the solar industry seeing record growth in production last year, which states led the country in solar employment? During today's OnPoint, Andrea Luecke, executive director of the Solar Foundation, discusses her group's new jobs census report and talks about the policy and economic drivers affecting employment in the solar industry.


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

Andrea Luecke: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

Monica Trauzzi: Andrea, U.S. solar energy saw huge growth in 2013. There are reports of 50 percent growth in production. The Solar Foundation has released a new job census report that highlights job growth nationally but also for individual states. Which were the top states for solar employment in 2013?

Andrea Luecke: So our research found that the solar industry is a very strong and quickly growing employer of U.S. workers. Nationally we found solar jobs in all 50 states. The leader is California, it has one-third of the solar jobs, followed by Arizona, New Jersey, Massachusetts and New York. Those top five states actually account for over 50 percent of all the solar jobs across the country. Now we are looking at jobs at 18,000 establishment locations in all 50 states, and we found some surprising results in a number of surprising states. Like, for example, 18 states in the South, in the Midwest and in the Mountain area, Mountain region more than doubled or doubled their solar jobs over the last year.

Monica Trauzzi: So the top states have stayed the same since 2012. What are those states doing that's different, that's sort of keeping them at the top?

Andrea Luecke: Well, California has long been a leader in solar. It's not at all a surprise that they continue to be No. 1. They actually have about five times more solar jobs than their closest rival, Arizona. They have a very stable policy environment. They enjoy a sequence of policies that help to create a lot of certainty and stability for employers. Uncertainty from an employer's perspective can really jeopardize their ability to make long-term investment decisions like hiring or staffing. So California has really done well there. Arizona and New Jersey, also strong policies. There is some change happening, but in general where we are seeing the strength, it's where there are cost reductions, and actually this is all across the country. Costs are coming down, consumer awareness is going up, and in states where there are smart policies designed to accelerate both of those you're going to see a greater uptick of installations which lead to jobs. While the industry is becoming more efficient, we are seeing that solar jobs are almost directly correlated with an increase in install capacity.

Monica Trauzzi: Net metering for distributed generation is being debated in many states around the country. Is there any trend established between states where we're seeing these heated debates and the level of job growth in those states?

Andrea Luecke: Yes and no. I think it's a little early to establish trends. Arizona I think is the most famous, most recent example. Arizona did lose jobs. About 1,200 jobs were lost, but Arizona is really complicated. There's no one reason as to why it lost jobs. The majority of the jobs we believe are attributed to the completion of the Solana plant, a CSP facility near Gila Bend. That in its heyday employed 2,000 people, and those jobs were attributed or accounted for last year and not this year because the plant had already been completed by the time we were out in the field with our data collection, between October and November. So that's the major reason for the job loss, but that affects only utility scale. Now in terms of rooftop solar, there was a lot of uncertainty because of the net-metering discussions, the enormous tax that was going to be placed. Ultimately that was brought down to $5 a month, but during that period consumers were extremely hesitant to go solar because they were counting on, well, they needed to know what the charge was going to be. And then meanwhile, of course, the commercial performance-based incentive was scaled back or eliminated, and then the residential incentives were scaled back or eliminated, so that caused a lot of hesitation, a lot of concern for consumers and was a contributing factor in Arizona's job loss. In Colorado, another state that's experiencing or is undergoing discussions with regard to net metering, their growth was nonexistent. It was flat. So while they're still a top-10 state, they did not see any movement in terms of job creation.

Monica Trauzzi: And which state showed the biggest jump since previous years?

Andrea Luecke: Ooh boy, maybe Wyoming, but maybe not the greatest example. So Wyoming grew by nearly 600 percent in 12 months; however, I have to say that Wyoming is a state with not a lot of solar activity going on and so we don't have that many data points for that state to really draw conclusive and definitive ideas as to what's going on there. But the bottom third of the states really did see a lot of growth, and again this is due to the national trend of costs going down and consumer awareness going up, and then just this steady adoption by PUCs and legislators to adopt smart, solar-friendly policies.

Monica Trauzzi: And you have some preliminary projections of what things might look like in the next year?

Andrea Luecke: Yeah, so employers are again very optimistic. They're projecting 15.6 percent growth over the next 12 months. And I'm very hopeful that I can sit here with you next year and boast record-breaking growth once again. Even manufacturing is expressing optimism about their growth. Last year we lost 8,500 jobs in manufacturing; this year it was flat essentially, which is not a problem considering that overall the U.S., the growth rate for U.S. manufacturing is at 0.7 percent and solar manufacturing is at 0.3 percent. So the solar industry is really not an anomaly in terms of manufacturing job loss.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, Andrea. We'll end it right there. Thank you so much for coming on the show again.

Andrea Luecke: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

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

[End of Audio]



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