PennEnvironment released new data Thursday showing that Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation for solar jobs, down from second last year. According to a new report from the Solar Foundation, the number of solar workers in the state has dropped from 6,700 to 4,703 at 750 businesses. Nationally, solar industry employment grew by 6.8% last year to about 100,000 workers at 17,000 locations.
PennEnvironment spokesperson Erika Staaf said there is growing support for solar panels nationwide. "At a time when many companies and whole sectors are slowing down, the solar industry maintains strong growth over the past twelve months and is projected to keep growing at a much faster pace than the overall U.S. economy."
Richard Rothshar, spokesman for Conservation Consultants Inc. said that while solar power is growing nationally, Pennsylvania's industry has taken a hit in the past year. "We're seeing the end of the funding that was provided through the PA Sunshine Program," said Rothshar. "And so when that economic fuel began to end, the industry began to slowdown."
The Sunshine Program was a $100 million solar rebate program that offered homeowners and small businesses up to 35% off their investment in solar panels. Originally provided by the Alternate Energy Investment Act in July 2008, the program is in its final stages and as of August new projects under the program have gone onto a waiting list.
Rothshar said without the program "it's going to be a difficult few years." But he said there would always be a market for solar panels through affluent people who seek energy independence. "For some people just being green is their payback."
State Representative Harry Readshaw (D-Allegheny County) is hoping that new legislation will help. He is one of 107 co-sponsors of House Bill 1580, which would increase yearly how much solar power electric companies must sell. He said the House would vote on the measure around January.
States ranked higher than Pennsylvania in solar jobs are California with 25,575, Colorado with 6,186, and Arizona with 4,786.