Solar jobs shrink again as tariffs bite industry

SOLAR JOBS declined in both Rhode Island and the United States from 2017 to 2018, according to a report from the Solar Foundation. Above, a graph of U.S. solar jobs from 2010 to 2018, as well as a projection for 2019. / COURTESY BLOOMBERG NEWS
SOLAR JOBS declined in both Rhode Island and the United States from 2017 to 2018, according to a report from the Solar Foundation. Above, a graph of U.S. solar jobs from 2010 to 2018, as well as a projection for 2019. / COURTESY BLOOMBERG NEWS

NEW YORK – United States solar jobs fell for a second straight year as companies delayed projects in anticipation of President Donald Trump’s import tariffs. The good news: Employment is set to bounce back in 2019.

The sector lost about 8,000 jobs in 2018, a 3.2 percent drop, as uncertainty over the tariffs announced early that year slowed large-scale projects, according to a report Tuesday from the Solar Foundation. The industry, which more than doubled its workforce since 2010, now employs about 242,000 people.

“We saw it coming,” Ed Gilliland, senior director at the Solar Foundation, said in an interview. “The uncertainty was a constraint.”

Rhode Island followed the national trend in 2018, declining from 1,064 solar jobs in 2017 to 1,007 jobs in 2018. The state ranked No. 11 in the nation for solar jobs per capita in 2018 and No. 36 for total jobs.

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California ranked No. 1 for total solar jobs in 2018 with 76,838 jobs while Nevada ranked No. 1 for solar jobs per capita.

There is, however, a turnaround ahead: Job growth will resume in 2019, jumping by 7 percent, according to the foundation. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, meanwhile, forecasts that solar-panel installer will be the fastest-growing occupation through 2026.

The U.S. solar industry warned tariffs would slow growth and impact employment. When Trump announced the duties in January 2018, the Solar Energy Industries Association projected 23,000 job losses.

In the end, the duties on imported solar equipment were lower than developers feared. But delays that began in the run-up to the White House’s final decision cascaded for months, slowing jobs growth for the first three quarters of 2018, according to the Solar Foundation, which has been tracking solar employment since 2010.

Policy changes or uncertainty in some leading solar states also curbed employment. California, the largest solar state, shed almost 9,600 solar jobs in 2018 as utilities were under less pressure to meet clean-energy goals after several years of aggressive development, according to the report.

Brian Eckhouse is a reporter for Bloomberg News. PBN contributed to this article.