Solar industry jobs in Connecticut remain flat in 2017

Connecticut’s solar energy industry is ranked 30th in the United States in terms of overall jobs, according to the National Solar Jobs Census 2017, which is produced by a non-profit group that promotes the renewable power industry.

But during 2017 when solar industry employment levels nationally declined by 3.8 percent or about 9,800 jobs, employment in the sector in Connecticut remained unchanged, according to the job census, which was done by the Solar Foundation. More than 250,000 people were employed by the solar industry nationally in 2017, but the decline in the employment sector represented the first decrease since the National Solar Job Census was first conducted in 2010.

There were 2,168 people employed by solar energy companies in Connecticut in 2017, just six fewer people than in 2016.

Connecticut’s solar industry fares better when viewed in the context of the ratio of solar jobs compared to the state’s overall workforce. The ratio of solar jobs to overall workforce in Connecticut in 2017 is 1 to 785, which means the state is ranked 20th in the United Sates.

Ed Gilliland, one of the authors of the job census report, said the decline in solar jobs at the national level was the result of explosive employment growth in the sector in 2016. The solar sector nationally saw a 25 percent increase in jobs in 2016, Gilliland said.

“The growth was the result of everyone believing that was going to be the last year before federal investment tax credits for solar expired,” he said. “We returned to a more normal trend line in 2017.”

Even with the decline in the number of solar energy jobs in 2017, Gilliland said 29 states and the District of Columbia saw employment growth in the sector last year.

Among the six New England states, Maine was the only state to see solar employment growth, adding 141 jobs for a 25 percent increase over 2016.

While Connecticut’s solar jobs numbers remained virtually unchanged, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire all saw losses in the employment sector. Solar industry employment levels in Massachusetts, which are the second highest in the nation after California, fell by 3.052 to 11,530, a 21 percent decrease.

Mike Trahan, executive director of SolarConnecticut, a statewide industry trade group, said the decline in solar jobs in Massachusetts is largely due to officials in that state placing a cap on net metering.

Net metering is the mechanism that allows homeowners who have solar panels to be compensated for the amount of energy produced that is in excess of what is used at the home. Trahan said Connecticut lawmakers are considering an 80 percent cut in the amount of net metering that is permitted.

“Net metering is responsible for those lost jobs in Massachusetts and it’s shocking that our state would consider something like that,” he said. “It would create a disincentive for people to begin using solar in Connecticut.”