Massachusetts reaches nearly 15,000 solar workers

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The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s (MassCEC) annual Clean Energy Industry reports can claim to be something of a “gold standard”. The thorough and comprehensive report’s methodology for counting clean energy jobs has been copied in 10 states including California, Illinois and Pennsylvania.

The fifth edition of the report clocked an increase in clean energy workers to just shy of 99,000, an 12% growth over the previous year and well ahead of the economy at large. Among those 99,000 workers are 14,820 in the state’s solar PV sector.

This is the second-highest number in the nation, and is particularly impressive given a number of the state’s larger manufacturers in the PV industry, such as PV module maker Evergreen Solar and inverter maker Satcon, went bankrupt in recent years.

This makes solar PV the largest renewable energy employer in the state, with more than five times as many solar workers as workers in the wind sector. Solar employment has been growing even more rapidly than the larger clean energy sector, with a quarter of the jobs in the sector added over the last year.

These tend to be well-paying jobs, that require little higher education. Over 95% of solar PV businesses report paying installation workers over $40,000 annually, and only 12% required bachelor’s degrees.

Solar businesses also tend to be small. MassCEC found 1,619 solar businesses in the state, and more than 2/3 of these had 10 permanent employees or less.

This increase in employment comes on the back of rising installation levels. According to GTM Research Massachusetts installed 308 MW of solar PV in 2014, as the fourth-largest market in the United States.

Much of this is currently under threat, as the two houses of Massachusetts’ legislature failed to reach a mutually acceptable compromise before winter recess. The possibility of a compromise during this recess is further limited by Senate President Stan Rosenberg’s plans to leave for Israel on December 3. Senator Rosenberg’s presence is seen as essential for crafting a compromise.

The net metering caps do not affect PV systems smaller than 10 kW for arrays with single-phase inverters and 25 kW for three-phase inverters. However, as much as 100 MW of commercial and community solar projects could be stalled until the caps are lifted.

"Unfortunately, as solar hit net metering caps in 2015 in half the Commonwealth – with no legislative solution agreed to by legislators – 2016 is shaping up to be a solar job killer," said Sean Garren of Vote Solar.