I’ll make a confession. I see a lot of press releases, and I usually glaze over the parts where they talk about how many jobs a particular project generates. It’s not that I don’t care about people’s well-being; it’s that I’m more interested in the electricity a project generates. It’s a technical bias.

Fortunately, Andrea Luecke, president and executive director of The Solar Foundation (TSF), has the jobs issue covered. TSF has released its fifth annual National Solar Jobs Census. The report shows the U.S. solar sector added more than 31,000 new jobs in 2014, bringing the country’s total to more than 173,800. This figure represents 21.8% growth in solar employment since 2013.

At a press event accompanying the release of 2013’s census, the boom in solar jobs was pegged squarely with the decrease in costs, which had gone down by half since 2008. This year, those costs were essentially flat. They actually went up a little. Yet there was still 22% growth in the number of solar jobs over 2013.

“I attribute this to consumer awareness, the industry becoming more professional and adept at their sales tactics,” Luecke says.

The policies are decent. The investment tax credit (ITC) is still an important driver. And there’s the rub.

Approximately 80% of all installation companies said the ITC is vital to their business models. Sixty percent say they will be laying off workers and subcontractors if the ITC is not extended.

“People are rushing to get their utility-scale projects in because the development lead time is so long,” Luecke says, saying two or three years is typically required.

Which puts the pipeline right at the precipice of the ITC.

One interesting aspect of the past two reports is that, according to last year’s report, Arizona actually lost 1,200 solar sector jobs in 2013, which TSF attributed in part to the completion of the Solana concentrating solar power facility, as well as uncertainty in the market. However, in the most recent report, Arizona was one of the top performers in terms of installation growth, with no utility-scale projects on deck.

Perhaps the Arizona example shows that it is possible for residential and commercial installations to take up the slack when utility-scale projects dry up. If so, what are the factors? Is it because issues with utility fees and other uncertainties have been resolved? It would be useful to have a better understanding of what is happening in Arizona so that maybe it can be bottled for later use.














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