Our opinion: A bright future for solar power in Vermont


A recent report from The Solar Foundation shows that Vermont has more solar industry jobs per capita than any other state. In fact, Vermont saw the most significant growth per capita in solar jobs, jumping from 11th to first in the rankings for the foundation's National Solar Jobs Census 2013. About 1,300 Vermonters are employed installing, manufacturing and developing solar power in our state.

"We have a bold vision in Vermont for an energy transformation phasing fossil fuels out as quickly as possible in favor of clean, renewable energy," U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who serves on the Senate energy and environmental committees, said in a statement. "Solar energy is a central part of that vision. A dramatic expansion of solar power is a clean and economical way to help break our dependence on foreign oil, reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming, and create good-paying manufacturing and installation jobs in Vermont and across the United States."

If the Solar Foundation's projections for industry growth are any indication, Vermont stands to reap huge benefits.

According to the report, the U.S. solar industry currently employs more than 142,000 Americans, nearly 24,000 additional solar workers over the previous year. The industry's nearly 20 percent growth in employment since 2012 shows that -- for the first time ever -- the solar industry exceeded the growth projections made in the previous year's report. During the period covered by Census 2013, average employment in the national economy grew at only 1.9 percent. Between September 2012 and November 2013, the U.S. solar industry added an average of 56 solar workers each day.

Seventy-seven percent of the nearly 24,000 new solar workers since September 2012 are new jobs, rather than existing positions that have added solar responsibilities, representing 18,211 new jobs created.

This comparison indicates that since data were collected for Census 2012, one in every 142 new jobs in the U.S. was created by the solar industry, and many more were saved by creating additional work opportunities for existing employees. Installers added the most solar workers over the past year, growing by 22 percent, an increase of 12,500 workers.

Solar employment is expected to grow by 15.6 percent over the next 12 months, representing the addition of approximately 22,240 new solar workers. Forty-five percent of all solar establishments expect to add solar employees during this period.

Wages paid by solar firms are competitive, with the average solar installer earning between $20 (median) and $23.63 (mean) per hour, which is comparable to wages paid to skilled electricians and plumbers and higher than average rates for roofers and construction workers. Production and assembly workers earn slightly less, averaging $15 (median) to $18.23 (mean) per hour, slightly more than the national average for electronic equipment assemblers.

Not surprisingly, California and Arizona continued to lead the way as the top two states for solar employment, with 47,223 and 8,558 jobs, respectively. The New England region is home to more than 25,000 solar jobs, representing nearly 20 percent of the total U.S. solar workforce despite not being among the sunniest regions.

Still, not everyone is sold on the future potential of renewable energy like solar.

"Despite the significant and growing portion of the Vermont economy devoted to making solar, wind, weatherization and other clean energy happen, opponents of renewables and efficiency continue to insist on using the absurd talking point that clean energy hurts our economy," the Vermont Public Interest Research Group said in a statement.

The truth, as VPIRG notes and the report from The Solar Foundation proves, is that clean energy equals good-paying jobs.


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