Report: Rhode Island solar jobs declined in 2017

PROVIDENCE – The number of solar jobs in Rhode Island fell 9.5 percent to 1,064 during 2017, according to a national report released Wednesday.

The report, dubbed the National Solar Jobs Census 2017, is an annual report put together by The Solar Foundation. Rhode Island’s decline in solar jobs outpaced a nationwide decrease of 3.8 percent, according to the report.

Andrea Luecke, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C., nonprofit, said the national decline reverses a consistent trend of year-over-year growth since the report started in 2010.

“The solar industry faced headwinds that led to a dip in employment in 2017, including a slowdown in the pace of new solar installations,” Luecke said.

- Advertisement -

Luecke attributed the slowdown in part to uncertainty surrounding a tariff on imported solar panels. The Trump administration approved the tax last month, which local solar business owners expect will have an adverse impact on sales and jobs.

The report used survey questionnaires and employer-reported data to generate its numbers. It defines a solar job as a job held by a worker who spends at least 50 percent of his time on solar-related work.

The job losses in Rhode Island signal a reverse from last year. In 2015, the state more than tripled its solar jobs, representing the greatest growth percentage-wise in the country, according to the same report.

The state ranked No. 36 in the country for solar jobs overall, but No. 11 when measured by solar jobs per capita. Apart from Maine, all other New England state realized year-over-year declines.

Solar jobs fell 0.3 percent to 2,168 in Connecticut (No. 30 per capita). Massachusetts suffered a 20.9 percent decline to 11,530 jobs (No. 7 per capita). Maine realized a 24.7 percent increase to 713 jobs (No. 26 per capita). New Hampshire saw a 11.2 percent reduction to 1,051 (No. 15 per capita). Vermont solar jobs fell 13.1 percent to 1,535 (No. 1 per capita).

The report was released two days after Gov. Gina M. Raimondo held a press conference to laud the state’s renewable-energy efforts.

The first-term governor on Monday directed the R.I. Office of Energy Resources to develop a proposal for utilities to purchase up to 400 megawatts of clean energy by the summer.

The state said utilities – predominately National Grid Rhode Island – currently purchase about 230 megawatts of renewable energy. Raimondo has called for that number to grow to 1,000 megawatts by 2020. The power can be generated outside of the state.

The national report also contrasts a state-administered report in 2017 showing so-called “clean-energy jobs” totaling 15,305 in 2017, representing an 11.1 percent increase from 2016. The clean-energy job sector, which has no official designation with the R.I. Department of Labor and Training, includes a wider range of energy-related jobs.

An OER spokesman said state officials had not yet seen The Solar Foundation report.

­Eli Sherman is a PBN staff writer. Email him at Sherman@PBN.com, or follow him on Twitter @Eli_Sherman.