Solar jobs are on the decline — the industry blames Trump

By Irina Ivanova

/ MoneyWatch

Solar power may cut college's tuition bill

The solar industry was held up as a job-creation engine just a few years ago, when the fastest-growing job in America was that of the solar-panel installer. Solar sector employment quickly became key to the U.S. energy industry. Nationwide, about as many people work in solar companies as in natural gas, while coal mining employs less than half that amount, according to the Energy Futures Initiative.

But that hiring spree has cooled notably. Since 2016, the industry has shrunk for two years in a row, losing about 18,000 jobs, according to a yearly report from the Solar Foundation. Solar employment last year was 242,300, nearly 8,000 lower than in 2017 and down from a peak of 260,000 than in 2016.

One reason for the reversal: The Trump administration imposed tariffs on Chinese-imported solar photovoltaic units in January of 2018, which had the effect of delaying or canceling about $8 billion worth of utility-scale projects.

"We have the trade policies and the tariffs that have been imposed on our industry, and they've had a detrimental impact on our ability to finalize projects and hire workers," Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told reporters this week.

Large solar farms can take as long as 18 months to develop and, because of their size they can be sensitive to shifts in component costs.

"There was a lot of uncertainty prior to the tariffs being announced in January 2018, and that uncertainty caused the larger projects to be delayed," Ed Gilliland, senior director at the Solar Foundation, told CBS MoneyWatch. "Once they found out what the tariffs were, it maybe wasn't as bad as we thought it would be."

A few months later, the Chinese government cut subsidies for solar production, which had the effect of dropping prices for solar modules. "And so now, despite the tariffs, the prices are now lower than they were last year," Gilliland added.

The U.S. imports about 90 percent of solar modules installed here, but less than one-tenth of them come from China.

Solar installers make up a large majority of the jobs in the industry, so a slowdown in the pace of solar installations can result in job losses, as happened in California, the country's largest solar producer. Solar jobs in the state dropped by more than 9,000, to about 76,000 jobs.

"Solar jobs are like construction-type activity — they're dependent on new solar being installed," said Andrea Luecke, executive director of the Solar Foundation. "So when California slows down the rate of installation, there will be fewer jobs."

solar-jobs-states.png

But 29 other states bulked up their solar workforce. Florida added 1,700 jobs after the state permitted solar leasing last summer. These programs allow residents to rent a solar system, avoiding the upfront costs of installing panels on their home.

Illinois, which is on course to introduce a 100 percent renewable energy target this month, added 1,300 jobs. Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Wyoming and Montana saw solar job growth over 20 percent.

The different effects highlight the importance of state-level policies, said Luecke, who expects jobs to rebound slightly in 2019. "There's a huge backlog of projects right now that are in the queue, under development or in the planning phase," she said. "Really it's an unprecedented amount of generation that's in the pipeline."

First published on February 14, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc.. All Rights Reserved.

solar-jobs.png solar-jobs-states.png

Solar jobs are on the decline — the industry blames Trump

U.S. tariffs have cast a shadow on what until recently had been one of the country's hottest job sectors

updated 4M ago

John Dingell honored in Washington — live updates

A funeral for Dingell is being held in Washington after the longest-serving member of Congress was memorialized back home in Michigan

updated 1M ago

What's in the border security deal?

Lawmakers are expected to vote on funding bill late Thursday

updated 44M ago

Shutdown watch: Congress to vote on funding bill Thursday

Lawmakers are aiming to vote late Thursday in the hopes of averting another government shutdown

updated 12M ago

California governor: Consumers should get paid a "digital dividend"

The idea is sparking debate about a tax on tech companies or a refund to customers who share their data with Facebook and others

1H ago

John Dingell honored in Washington — live updates

A funeral for Dingell is being held in Washington after the longest-serving member of Congress was memorialized back home in Michigan

updated 1M ago

What's in the border security deal?

Lawmakers are expected to vote on funding bill late Thursday

updated 44M ago

Shutdown watch: Congress to vote on funding bill Thursday

Lawmakers are aiming to vote late Thursday in the hopes of averting another government shutdown

updated 12M ago

Pompeo refuses to say if he believes CIA on Khashoggi killing

Dismissing the question as "ridiculous," Pompeo says U.S. will hold "each individual accountable" for the murder, but current "fact sets" don't implicate crown prince

2H ago

Lyndon LaRouche dead at 96

LaRouche's political action committee confirmed Wednesday on its website that LaRouche died a day earlier

3H ago

Pompeo refuses to say if he believes CIA on Khashoggi killing

Dismissing the question as "ridiculous," Pompeo says U.S. will hold "each individual accountable" for the murder, but current "fact sets" don't implicate crown prince

2H ago

Philippine journalist posts bail, calls for "outrage" over libel arrest

"What we're seeing is death by a thousand cuts of our democracy," Rappler CEO and editor Maria Ressa says after release

7H ago

Omar, Venezuela envoy clash on U.S. meddling in Latin America

Elliott Abrams, the State Department's special representative to Venezuela, was involved in controversial foreign policy decisions during the Cold War

11H ago

House passes bill to limit U.S. involvement in Yemen

The Trump administration has provided military assistance to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen

16H ago

Prada forms diversity council after blackface outrage

The move follows accusations of racism in the luxury fashion world

17H ago

Ryan Adams accused of emotional abuse, sexual misconduct

In one allegation, a 20-year-old female musician said Ryan Adams, 44, had inappropriate conversations with her while she was 15 and 16

9H ago

These A-listers are the most stylish stars, according to People

Ahead of the Academy Awards, People has released its list that also includes Emma Stone, Nicole Kidman, Donald Glover

15H ago

Disney reveals first look at "Frozen 2"

Fans get their first look at the highly-anticipated "Frozen 2," and it appears the cast is far from where they started

19H ago

3 women share role of Cher on Broadway. They call it "Cherapy."

The lead role is played by three actresses who represent the different stages of Cher's life

22H ago

George Clooney defends Meghan Markle after treatment by press

"I believe she cried more to do with the press intrusion than anything else in her life," Prince William has said about their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales

Feb 13

Solar jobs are on the decline — the industry blames Trump

U.S. tariffs have cast a shadow on what until recently had been one of the country's hottest job sectors

updated 4M ago

California governor: Consumers should get paid a "digital dividend"

The idea is sparking debate about a tax on tech companies or a refund to customers who share their data with Facebook and others

1H ago

Hackers are stealing medical records – and selling them on the dark web

How easy is it for criminals to get hold of these patient files? It only took a few seconds

2H ago

Atmospheric River, record snow: Extreme weather slams West Coast

The extreme weather is due to a powerful Pacific Ocean jet stream pattern: Part of the polar jet stream is angled straight south along the U.S. West Coast from Alaska

9H ago

Apple lawyer who oversaw insider trading policy charged with insider trading

Former attorney at the tech giant allegedly drew on non-public earnings information to cash in

17H ago

Hackers are stealing medical records – and selling them on the dark web

How easy is it for criminals to get hold of these patient files? It only took a few seconds

2H ago

CDC warns about potentially contaminated raw milk

A dangerous drug-resistant bacteria is connected the consumption of raw milk​ in 19 states

16H ago

Eating these kinds of foods may cut your life short

New research suggests certain foods high in salt, sugar and other additives may increase the risk of early death

17H ago

Depression during and after pregnancy can be prevented, panel says

Up to 1 in 7 women experience what's called perinatal depression, and a task force has issued new recommendations to help prevent it

Feb 13

Drugmaker behind ibuprofen recall has history of FDA violations

Federal watchdog previously found significant violations of manufacturing rules by Tris Pharma

updated 31M ago

Solar jobs are on the decline — the industry blames Trump

U.S. tariffs have cast a shadow on what until recently had been one of the country's hottest job sectors

updated 4M ago

California governor: Consumers should get paid a "digital dividend"

The idea is sparking debate about a tax on tech companies or a refund to customers who share their data with Facebook and others

1H ago

Airbus abandons iconic A380 superjumbo amid waning demand

The European plane maker will stop making the world's biggest passenger jet after a key client cut its order

1H ago

Colorado store closing after boycotting Nike over Kaepernick ad

Nike took a risk in hiring Kaepernick and it paid off – the same cannot be said for a store that took a risk and boycotted the brand

1H ago

Google to expand across U.S. with $13 billion investment

That would bring the number of states the search giant operates in to 24, with hiring of "tens of thousands"

1H ago

Apple lawyer who oversaw insider trading policy charged with insider trading

Former attorney at the tech giant allegedly drew on non-public earnings information to cash in

17H ago

Gunman kills wife at dentist's office, gets shot by bystander

Armed bystander shoots gunman, detains him, waits for police to arrive, police say

20H ago

White supremacist gang in Arkansas accused of brutal tactics

Group called "reprehensible in its admiration for Nazi imagery and racist views, but even more alarming are the crimes and violence perpetrated by these defendants"

17H ago

Ohio State student and her kidnapper killed in police chase

Female student from Ohio State University campus, man suspected of abducting her both die after police chase, shooting

17H ago

One year after Parkland shooting, survivors continue push for change

Survivor Lauren Hogg tells CBSN activism "gives me a reason to get up every single morning"

20H ago