The small but significant job loss that hit the U.S. solar industry in 2017 was baked into the industry’s performance before Donald Trump ever had a chance to impose his crippling, 30% tariff on imported solar cells and modules in January 2018, Renewable Energy World notes, in an analysis of the latest employment figures from The Solar Foundation’s annual Solar Jobs Census.
The timing of the numbers shows that the cause of the 3.8% decline was not the political response to the tariff case, but the original trade complaint lodged by bankrupt solar manufacturer Suniva Inc. last May, and later joined by the U.S. subsidiary of Germany’s SolarWorld AG.
“The likely cause of the loss of jobs is the solar tariff, however, it’s not the easy cause-effect that one might think, and as hard as this might be to believe, it is not Trump’s fault,” writes REWorld Chief Editor Jennifer Runyon. By the time Trump issued his final tariff ruling, “the 2017 jobs were already lost. Why? Because of the uncertainty.”
Runyon explains that “when developers are planning to purchase modules for a large project, they need those prices to be as low as possible. In many cases, they have already negotiated a power purchase agreement (PPA) with an offtaker, and are expecting to buy their modules at a certain price.”
With the threat of tariffs looming over those projects, “the ability to make a deal [was] gone. Who can purchase anything based on a potential price?’” Their only course of action was to “put their projects on hold and lay off the workers at the bottom of the totem pole, because they know they will not be starting construction as soon as they had originally planned.”
With 250,271 employees in 2017, the U.S. solar industry employed 9,800 fewer people than in 2016, Renewable Energy World notes, citing the Solar Foundation census. But “the overall trend is up. The solar work force increased by 168% in the past seven years, from about 93,000 jobs in 2010.” And “solar jobs increased in 29 states and the District of Columbia in 2017, including in many states with emerging solar markets,” including Utah, Minnesota, Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Tennessee.
Solar employment fell in the two states with the largest solar work force—21% in Massachusetts, and 14% in California.
But based on 2016 figures—the latest year for which comparative figures are available—“solaremploys twice as many workers as the coal industry, almost five times as many as nuclear power, and nearly as many workers as the natural gas industry,” Runyon writes.