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Solar jobs grow in Pennsylvania while declining nationally

Written by Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania | Feb 13, 2019 2:07 PM
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Patrick Whittaker of Solar States installs solar panels on the roof of a home in Bryn Mawr. (Emma Lee /WHYY)

Jobs in Pennsylvania's solar industry grew 10 percent last year, while declining three percent nationally, according to a new analysis.

The National Solar Jobs Census 2018 was published this week by the Solar Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes solar energy. The foundation has tracked U.S. solar job growth since 2010 and found employment has grown 159 percent since its first census was released. Nationally, the solar industry employed 242,343 workers last year.

The group attributes last year's broader slowdown to solar companies delaying many utility-scale projects at the end of 2017 as they waited for the outcome of new tariffs on solar panels.

"Despite some growing pains, things look very positive in 2019 and beyond," said Ed Gilliland, senior director for The Solar Foundation.

Amid the overall decline, the report found Pennsylvania solar employment jumped 10 percent last year, with 4,219 workers. The foundation ranks Pennsylvania 17th among states for solar jobs.

Under the state's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard -- a 2004 law requiring utilities to purchase electricity from clean and alternative sources -- Pennsylvania is on track to produce half-a-percent of its electricity from solar by 2021. But late last year, Gov. Tom Wolf's administration issued a report called Finding Pennsylvania's Solar Future, which lays out 15 recommendations and sets a much more ambitious goal -- 10 percent by 2030.

In the past two years Pennsylvania lawmakers have also taken other steps to boost solar growth. Last summer, they passed a new law to enable a Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program. It's aimed at helping commercial property owners finance the costs of clean energy upgrades, like adding rooftop solar.

In 2017, Wolf signed a new law designed to give more protection for home-grown projects and prevent out-of-state solar power from disrupting Pennsylvania's marketplace for clean energy.

StateImpact Pennsylvania is a collaboration among WITF, WHYY, WESA and the Allegheny Front to report on the the commonwealth's energy economy.

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