As the Solar Energy Industries Association released the latest quarterly report, the numbers spoke for themselves; 449.2 MW of PV installations were commissioned from July to September of last year. More than in any quarter ever before and more than in the entire year of 2009 together. An unbelievable 140% increase over the same time period last year. “A+” you would say if the solar industry was a student, and you’d give them a big pat on the back and promote them to the next semester.
What’s an even greater success story is that behind each of these numbers are jobs, livelihoods of families and individuals. Over 100,000 Americans are employed in the solar industry today, 50% more than a mere two years ago. Many of those are workers who previously had lost their jobs in the construction and other related industries that were hardest hit during the recession. Being closely involved in PV-industry education and training, it is exciting to see electricians, roofers, HVAC and other professionals as well as construction companies sending their workers to attend PV-training classes. Many of them that I have had the privilege of meeting have told me heartbreaking personal stories of their struggles and how a new or redirected career in the clean energy industry has been their rescue. Another gold star for our poster book student, you say? Maybe a spot on the president’s list?
If the solar industry were in fact a student, it would be one you award with a scholarship and support in its every endeavor. You most definitely wouldn’t pull the rug out from under such a well-performing individual that shows all the promise to be an all-star performer. Despite the shining record the solar industry has, Congress has been dragging its feet about extending the 1603-Program of the Department of Treasury, a most successful “scholarship program” for domestic energy sources and technologies since 2009. Now President Obama has put it back on the 2013 Budget Request. The president’s support of the public program could help create as much as 37,000 jobs in the solar industry this year alone.
The grant, which is offered in conjunction with the Department of Energy, offers eligible developers a 30% cash payment for a project’s total costs in lieu of the investment tax credit. Especially small to mid-size companies profit from the opportunity to have cash to finance energy projects since the availability of tax equity to fund projects has dried up severely since 2008. Since the grant was put on hold at the end of 2011, small and family size solar business felt the repercussions especially hard and had to postpone hiring additional workers because of the program’s uncertain future. “At a time when the nation’s economy is on the verge of recovery, now is not the time to walk away from smart, proven policies like the 1603 Program that create jobs and support small business growth,” commented Rhone Resch, President and CEO of the Solar Energy Industry Association.
In the past two years the program has funded an amazing 22,747 projects in each of the 50 states. From wind power in Alaska to geothermal heat pumps in Ohio and biomass in Wisconsin—1603 has put thousands and thousands of Americans to work, has contributed in weaning the nation from its dangerous dependency on foreign oil and created a myriad of clean, sustainable energy options. With the high-performance products and materials available on the market today, many of these projects will still be up and running splendidly in 30 and 40 years and help sustain future generations in a world of dwindling resources.
The vast majority of funded projects were solar projects (22,060 to be specific) of an average size of 40kW—not really big fish but what we call the “bread and butter” business in the PV-industry. It’s those that will keep America’s economy alive and going again at a healthy pace, it’s the family-owned, small to medium size businesses that are deeply rooted in American values and that are proud to be the green and clean high-tech engines of recovery and progress. Another proof of the program’s success are the $23.9 Billion it has triggered in private sector investment—since stimulating money flow is exactly what the grant had been set out to do to begin with. $23,900,000,000.00 is a big number, and I bet it’s really big to those whose jobs and professions were saved.
Conservative estimates say that if the 1603 Program is not renewed, the financing capability of energy projects would shrink by a massive 52%. Although close to $8 Billion were awarded to wind technology projects, the majority of jobs, as mentioned, has been created in the solar field and would clearly be hardest hit. It’s obviously impossible to predict the future, but it’s safe to say that jobs lost without 1603 would get costly again at the unemployment office and be a shock frost to the financing capabilities of the industry. Of course, in an economic environment where global financial leaders paint worrisome scenarios of a potential deepening global economic and financial crisis, it would be hard to imagine that our elected officials would allow for America’s best performing industry job program to cede and consequently self-destruct the success story it has just created.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author Sylvia Minton, Public Policy Chair of the Georgia Solar Energy Association. A long time journalist and communications specialist, the Sr. VP of Corporate Affairs for MAGE SOLAR, a complete solar PV systems & components provider, is a member of the board of directors of the MAGE SOLAR ACADEMY in Dublin, GA, USA. MAGE SOLAR ACADEMY, located at the corporate campus of MAGE SOLAR USA in Dublin, GA, is a premier educational arena for professionals of all levels and occupations in the expanding PV-market. Actively training top PV professionals on both sides of the Atlantic, the American unit of MAGE SOLAR ACADEMY boasts over 10,000 sq ft of state-of-the-art educational technology, indoor and outdoor training and simulation areas.