By TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
A recently released report by The Solar Foundation shows that solar jobs rose nearly 25 percent nationally in 2013. Southern New England did even better. Overall, solar jobs grew 10 times faster than the national employment growth rate of 1.9 percent, according to the report.
Rhode Island jobs in the solar energy sector jumped 62 percent, from 210 to 340 jobs. However, the rise was less dramatic than other states, dropping Rhode Island from 21 to 26 in the national ranking of per-capita jobs.
Environment Rhode Island praised the job growth but said the state needs better incentives and programs to join the growth of neighboring states.
“The sky’s the limit on solar,” said Channing Jones, campaign director for Environment Rhode Island. “But right now, only a small fraction our energy comes from solar. To take it to the next level, we need to rally around a bigger vision on solar while defending and improving the programs that work.”
A number of bills are expected this year in the General Assembly to improve incentives, including an extension of the distributed generation contracts program. The Office of Energy Resource is also updating its long-term energy plan.
In all, Rhode Island has 17 solar companies and 328 homes using solar energy.
Massachusetts solar jobs increased 42 percent, to 6,400 jobs in the sector. New solar projects are way up, as solar capacity doubled to 425 megawatts, surpassing the state's goal of 250 megawatts of solar capacity by 2017. Top marks were given for the state’s net-metering and interconnection policies. Solar companies increased to 283, and 51,618 homes have solar-energy systems. The state’s innovate solar renewable energy certificates (SREC) program and strong public outreach about its programs is credited with the succes of the solar sector's growth.
Connecticut lags behind solar leaders Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey, but still saw 62 percent job growth in 2013. The state dropped two spots to 28 nationally. In all, Connecticut has 108 solar companies that have installed systems on 5,615 homes. In 2011, lawmakers passed a clean-energy law with a rebate incentive program that increases new solar capacity for homes.
Nationally, the solar job sector is expected to increase 12 percent in 2014. The most common new job, a solar installer, earns between $20 and $23.63 an hour, according to the report.