Solar, Wind Industries Pitch Job Growth to New Administration RSS Feed

Solar, Wind Industries Pitch Job Growth to New Administration

The solar and wind industries are pushing a message they think sells well even with an administration fixed on helping fossil fuels: Renewable energy creates jobs.

Solar and wind are among fastest growing sectors in the economy, and the trend is projected to continue, the renewable industries say.

“Our messaging all along has been jobs,” Christopher Mansour, vice president of federal affairs at the Solar Energy Industries Association, said.

“When you’re talking to any politician at the federal, state or local level …. jobs equals voters, and so jobs is such a strong message for decision makers at all levels,” Mansour told Bloomberg BNA.

The Trump administration has issued executive orders aimed at bringing back coal jobs, even though analysts say these jobs likely will not return because of the high cost of keeping coal plants running and automation in the industry. Meanwhile, renewable energy manufacturing and installation jobs continue to grow, the solar and wind trade associations in Washington say. The groups represent solar photovoltaic manufacturers including Trina Solar Ltd. and wind turbine makers such as Siemens Corp. and General Electric, as well as installers such as Vivint Solar Inc. and operators including Invenergy LLC.

In coal, robotic machines and automation inside mines and self-driving trucks in surface activities are replacing workers, Amy Myers Jaffe, a global fellow focusing on energy and environment at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, told Bloomberg BNA. She said the solar and wind manufacturing, installation and maintenance jobs may be harder to replace.

“As solar costs really fall, and the only way for coal to be competitive is to eliminate jobs. To me, that’s really the key point,” she told Bloomberg BNA.

The solar industry said it reached 260,077 employees by the end of 2016, a 51,000-person increase from 2015 (25 percent growth). Also, one out of every 50 new jobs in the U.S. was a solar job, Mansour said. The fastest-growing jobs in the field are in manufacturing photovoltaics cells and solar panel installation, according to The Solar Foundation, a non-profit solar advocacy group.

‘Exciting Story to Tell’

The wind industry makes the same point.

“We’ve always talked about jobs in the wind industry because we do have an exciting story to tell,” Tom Kiernan, the CEO of the American Wind Energy Administration, said. The wind industry supports 102,500 jobs, adding close to 15,000 in 2016, or 16 percent growth from 2015. “The growth is approximately nine times faster than the average industry in the country,” Kiernan told Bloomberg BNA.

The growth in wind energy jobs in 2016 is primarily attributable to wind project manufacturing and supply chain activity, and an increased number of employees to operate more wind turbines, AWEA says in its 2016 annual market report.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry sent a memo to his chief of staff in mid-April requesting a report expected out in June on electricity reliability and markets, querying whether subsidies to renewable energy sources are impacting struggling baseload resources like coal and nuclear. AWEA and SEIA sent a letter April 28 to Perry asking for the report process to be transparent and for them to solicit public feedback from stakeholder groups. They said the Energy Department has not yet responded.

The Energy Department spokesman Shaylyn Hynes said of the report, “The findings will be released to the public (including stakeholders) once the study is completed this summer. The Secretary looks forward to receiving input from all parties once that occurs.”

Outlook for Jobs

Jaffe said the momentum for growth will continue, “given the pace of growth in wind and solar compared to other energy sources for electricity in the U.S.”

Ethan Zindler, head of the Americas at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said 2016 was a record year for both new solar and wind installations in the U.S. BNEF forecasts approximately the same amount of wind and solar to be built in the next three to four years.

The biggest growth in the next few years will be in the commercial industrial and residential sectors involving rooftop solar. “And that’s the most labor intensive, so that would suggest we’ll continue to see job growth in solar as a result of that trend,” Zindler said.

Maintaining Tax Credits

The job growth in the renewable industries is largely attributed to the commercial and residential wind and solar production and investment tax credits, which will phase down by 2020 to 2021. Both industries are continuing to advocate for members of Congress to maintain these incentives as they enter into discussions on a tax reform bill.

“Our message is we got extended in 2015, but essentially we’ve already undergone tax reform,” Mansour said. “We’re already in transition. We’ve got the full 30 percent credit for 2017, 2018 and 2019, and then it ramps down to 26 percent in 2020, and 22 percent 2021.”

“It’s actually an argument that resonates very well with Democratic and Republican members. They see we’re an industry that’s already accepted a transitional ramp-down of the tax credit. You’d be hard-pressed to find too many industries out there that are in that situation right now,” he said.
Read full article at Bloomberg BNA