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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Feb. 21, 201904:20 AM EST

Florida leads nation in new solar jobs

But The Solar Foundation found that jobs in the industry fell 3.2 percent in 2018.
by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

Momentum for new solar energy projects may be slowing in some areas but it is an emerging force in Florida, which led the nation last year in new solar industry jobs.

An annual jobs census released last week by The Solar Foundation found U.S. jobs in the industry fell by 3.2 percent in 2018 to 242,343, the second straight annual decline.

However, the nonprofit group said Florida added 1,769 new solar jobs, a 21 percent jump that brought the state’s employment in the industry to 10,358.

That puts Florida second in the nation in solar employment behind California, but it’s a distant second to California’s 76,838 jobs.

The national slowdown in jobs came as “solar companies delayed many utility-scale projects in late 2017 while awaiting the outcome of a petition for new tariffs on solar panels and cells,” the foundation said in a news release.

“These delays led to reduced capacity growth and fewer jobs in the first three quarters of 2018.”

Despite its big lead in total solar employment, California lost jobs last year.

“At the state level, policy challenges and a difficult business climate contributed to lower jobs numbers in some states with established solar markets,” the foundation said.

“In other states, supportive policies and the rapidly declining cost of solar technologies helped drive an increase in employment in 2018.”

Florida is a state that is seeing high-profile solar industry projects.

That includes the new JinkoSolar Holding Co. Ltd. solar panel plant at Cecil Commerce Center that is expected to employ 200 people when fully operational.

Meanwhile, JEA has plans in the works to increase its solar capacity from 39 megawatts by the fall of this year to 289 megawatts by the end of 2022 as five new solar facilities come on line.

Florida Power & Light Co., which has committed to buy solar panels from JinkoSolar, has 18 major solar plants operating in Florida. That includes a Putnam County plant and another plant that spans Putnam and Alachua counties.

JinkoSolar’s incentives application approved last year by City Council said the average salary for employees would be $45,562. But most employees in the solar industry in Northeast Florida make less than that.

Manufacturing accounts for only 14 percent of solar industry jobs, according to the Solar Foundation study. Installation and project management accounts for 64 percent of the industry jobs.

According to projections by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, solar photovoltaic installers earn a median wage of $15.22 an hour, less than Florida’s overall median wage of $16.07.

The Florida agency is projecting big growth in the sector, with solar installer jobs growing by 63.4 percent through 2026, compared with statewide job growth of 10.1 percent.

Despite declines in nationwide solar employment in the past two years, the Solar Foundation paints an optimistic picture of the industry.

It said industry jobs still grew by 70 percent from 2013 through 2018, compared with national overall job growth of 9.13 percent.

Based on the foundation’s survey, it is expecting solar industry jobs to increase by 7 percent this year.

“With a backlog of utility-scale projects and new policy incentives in key states, the outlook for solar jobs is expected to improve in 2019,” it said.

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