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Solar Industry Shows Massive Job Growth, Now Topping 100,000

Tina Casey headshotWords by Tina Casey
Leadership & Transparency
The Solar Foundation's Solar Jobs Census finds solar industry is creating more green jobsThe solar energy industry is churning out new green jobs at a steady clip, according to a new report commissioned by The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit trade group. That's a pretty astounding piece of news considering the overall state of job creation in this economy, and The Solar Foundation has been quick to take advantage of the timing: it announced the findings right at the start of President Obama's three-day bus bus tour in support of the American Jobs Act. The message from The Solar Foundation is clear: if we're going to talk about creating jobs, let's talk about jobs in a growing industry that provides a positive benefits for the nation in terms of energy independence, a cleaner environment, and improved public health. The Solar Foundation's U.S. Solar Jobs Census The new report is titled "National Solar Jobs Census 2011: A Review of the Solar Workforce." It was conducted by The Solar Foundation with the labor market consulting firm Green LMI Consulting, a division of BW Research Partnership, and assistance from Cornell University. The report cuts right to the mustard, contrasting a 2 percent net job loss in the fossil fuel power generation sector with a solar industry growth rate of 6.8 percent. According to the report, more than 100,000 people are employed in the U.S. solar industry. Almost half of the solar firms in the report said they planned to hire more workers in the next twelve months, with a total of 24,000 new jobs created. Solar Energy Jobs, Solar Energy Policy Of course, the expectation of new job creation does not necessarily add up to reality. Andrea Luecke, executive director of the Solar Foundation, noted in a press release that "policymakers, workforce training providers and the industry must work together to continue creating good jobs for skilled workers." In that regard, the alternate job creation policies unveiled by Republican legislators last week will throw a monkey wrench into the works; rather than encouraging growth in the solar industry or in other renewables, they encourage growth in fossil fuels through increased drilling and decreased environmental protections. Solar Industry Job Growth and National Defense Ironically, this emphasis on fossil fuels puts the Republican party squarely at odds with the Pentagon. It is practically possible to understate the extent to which solar power and other renewables are entwined with the Department of Defense's future energy strategy. In a move that has occurred under the public radar (though regular readers of TriplePundit have been getting the scoop), the U.S. military is transitioning out of fossil fuels. Entire Army bases are going off-grid, for example, and Navy jet fighters are adopting biofuels. The symbiotic relationship between national defense, federal energy policy and job creation is on full display through the relationship between the U.S. Air Force and Magnolia Solar; the Air Force is funding Magnolia's development of high efficiency solar technology, and it will also be an eager customer for Magnolia's products. Will the Real American Jobs Act Please Stand Up? The Republican legislators have dubbed their alternate plan the "Real American Jobs Act." However, given the strategic importance of renewable energy to national defense, the growing demand for solar energy even during a profound economic slump, and the benefits to the environment and public health, it would seem that the "real" American Jobs Act is the one that enables the promotion of solar and other forms of renewable energy. As a side note...does anybody else think that calling a dubious set of legislative proposals the "Real American Jobs Act" echoes another off-key reference to "real America?" Feel free to share in the comment thread. Image credit: Solar power workers by Allan Henderson on flickr.com. Twitter: @TinaMCasey
Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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