Industry Analysis Finds Trump’s War Restricts Solar Energy Job Growth

February 19, 2020 by Dan McCue

President Donald Trump’s tariff war with China significantly restricted the growth of the nation’s solar energy workforce last year, an industry analysis shows.

According to a report released Wednesday by The Solar Energy Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to advancing the use of solar and solar-compatible technologies worldwide, the solar workforce in the U.S. grew by just 2.3% in 2019, adding a meager 5,643 jobs.

What growth there was in the sector is attributed in part to an increase in the number of solar energy jobs in Puerto Rico as it continues to try to recover and build greater resilience into its energy system in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Maria two years ago.

Overall, the solar industry employs 249,983 workers in the U.S., up from 244,340 in 2018.

The report suggests that while the industry is pleased to see any uptick at all, it does not compensate for the contraction the sector experienced in 2017, due to the looming threat of the tariffs, and again in 2018, the first year the tariffs were in effect.

After reaching a peak of 260,077 in 2016, the solar energy industry shed 9,800 jobs in 2017, and another 8,000 jobs in 2018.

“For the last few years, the data has been clear: U.S. solar jobs grow when trade restrictions decline,” said  Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industry Association. “More than half of companies surveyed in the National Solar Jobs Census 2019 reported that policy challenges are a significant deterrent to their growth.

“Adding more than 5,000 new jobs is impressive given the policy environment, but we could be leaps and bounds ahead of where we are if it weren’t for trade restrictions. [This] report shows that tariffs prevented tens of thousands of additional jobs from being created over the last three years. These are well-paying jobs that support families and boost communities.”

Jobs ticked up last year because of the phase-down of section 201 tariffs, and the resulting decline in solar costs and deployment growth in several state markets, the report says.

Despite the headwinds the industry has experienced as a result of the trade war, Hopper said “the solar industry is resilient.”

“We’re going to need to continue to evolve and create jobs if we’re going to comprise 20% of U.S. electricity generation by 2030,” she said. “Managing our growth will be a key part of this work and we’ll continue to focus our efforts on workforce development and making sure the opportunities we create are open and accessible to all Americans.”

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