Solar jobs grew 15 percent in Virginia in 2019, industry census finds

A solar array. (Getty Images)

Solar industry jobs in Virginia grew 15 percent between 2018 and 2019, the 10th National Solar Jobs Census conducted by the Solar Foundation released Wednesday found. 

Virginia ranked seventh among the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico in terms of solar job growth last year, with numbers rising from 3,890 in 2018 to 4,489 in 2019. Those figures outstrip the state’s coal industry employment, which according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, numbered 2,730 workers in 2018

A “solar job” is defined as “one held by a worker spending at least 50% of his or her time on solar-related work,” although the report released Wednesday said that among census respondents, “roughly 90 percent of these workers (91.4% in 2019) spend 100 percent of their time on solar-related work.”

Top states for job growth included Florida, Georgia and Utah. Several states, including California, Tennessee and Michigan, lost solar jobs between 2018 and 2019.

(Solar Foundation, National Solar Jobs Census 2019)

In a release from the Solar Foundation, Gov. Ralph Northam said he was “thrilled to see the momentum continue as we prioritize policies that will accelerate these solar investments and help us achieve our goal of reaching 100 percent carbon-free energy generation within the next 30 years.”

Nationwide, solar employment grew 2.3 percent between 2018 and 2019 after two years of losses analysts attributed to tariffs placed by the Trump administration on imported solar panels and state-level policies that dampened growth.

That rise was significantly less than census predictions in 2018 that jobs would increase by 7 percent in 2019.

The Solar Foundation attributed the increases to the planned decrease in the federal solar investment tax credit on Jan. 1, which spurred a rush of development aiming to take advantage of the higher rate before the end of the year; stabilization in the international market due to less tariff uncertainty; and continued declines in solar costs and prices.

The Southeast was highlighted by the Census as “one of the hot spots for American solar growth”:

Eight of the 13 states in the Southeast experienced solar job growth in 2019. The largest increases in jobs were in Florida and Georgia, followed by Virginia, Maryland, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, and Delaware. All but one of those states also experienced solar capacity growth in 2019, which usually correlates with an increase in jobs.

The exception is Virginia, which was expected to experience a 5% decrease in new installed capacity, though the commonwealth gained 600 solar jobs. This relationship can be explained by the large pipeline of utility-scale solar projects in Virginia, with 1.3 GW expected to come online in 2020. Many of these projects are currently under construction, creating solar jobs without immediate capacity growth.