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Published on February 12th, 2015 | by Tina Casey

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Solar Jobs Boom Makes Keystone XL Pipeline Look Like A Tinker Toy

February 12th, 2015 by  


Check out the Solar Foundation’s latest solar jobs report for the US, and you’ll see why the folks over there are looking forward to another great year in 2015. The new state-by-state solar Jobs Census was just released one minute ago, and aside from the interesting factoid that the solar industry created 1 in 78 new jobs last year, it highlights the emergence of strong solar markets in so-called “red” states where lawmakers are not particularly known for being solar-friendly.

As for the Keystone XL pipeline, for now, let’s just say that the project would create about 3,900 temporary construction jobs and something on the order of 42,000 other temporary jobs all along the supply chain.

That sounds pretty impressive, but how does the solar industry stack up?

Solar jobs growth 2014

Solar Jobs Growth In The US

You can get all the state-by-state reports from The Solar Foundation, but for those of you on the go, here are some key points.

If you guessed California is the solar leader, go buy yourself a cigar. In terms of job-creating comparisons with the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, California singlehandedly puts that project in its place.

According to the Solar Foundation, California clocked in at 54,680 solar jobs as of November 2014, making it the first state to beat the 50,000 mark by a wide margin — and pretty much kicking Keystone to the curb.

You can check over the full California solar jobs census to see if there’s a breakdown for permanent jobs, but even with a large measure of leeway we’re going to guess that there’s at least 35 permanent solar jobs buried in that figure of 54,680.

For the US as a whole, The Solar Foundation records 31,000 solar jobs added in 2014, putting the jobs growth rate of the US solar industry at 21.8% compared to 1.1% nationally. Nationally, US solar industry employment was 174,000 as of November 2014.

That squares with the latest solar jobs news out of the Energy Department, as our friends over at PV-Tech.org were just informed by the agency’s SunShot director, Minh Le.



Not to push the point (but we will anyways), when you factor in new jobs related to energy efficiency, the numbers really skyrocket.

It all comes down to opposing business models. In fossil fuels, the model is based on selling more units of fuel. In solar energy and other renewables, all the profit is in the technology. With renewables, the fuel is “free,” so there is no disincentive — and a lot of incentives — to investing in energy efficiency.

We’ll include energy storage as a necessary component of that renewable energy mix, so given all the growing buzz about energy storage, you can bet that a pretty good number of new jobs are being generated in that category. If you happen to have the inside word, drop us a note in the comments thread.

Solar Jobs Bloom In Red States

We’ve noted previously that the former finger-pointing Republican governor of Arizona, Jan Brewer, was a fervent supporter of solar energy development. As a side note, Arizona also emerged as a hotbed of next-generation algae biofuel development under Governor Brewer’s tenure.

In part thanks to Brewer’s efforts, Arizona placed third behind the “blue” states California and Massachusetts for the most solar jobs created in 2014, and now it looks like Republican Governor Mike Sandoval of Nevada has taken up the mantle.

Sandoval was highlighted in The Solar Foundation’s press materials with this statement:

I am proud that Nevada leads the nation in solar jobs and opportunities. Nevada is emerging as a leader in new technology and innovation and this announcement demonstrates the possibilities within our state if we continue to recruit the growing industries of the 21st century…

Not for nothing, but aside from boasting the most solar jobs per capita, Nevada is also poised to become a key player in the energy storage market of the future, partly due to its role as the site of the nation’s only vanadium mine.

What Now, Keystone XL Pipeline?

We’d love to noodle around more in The Solar Foundation’s report for many more details, but for now let’s just point out that two other surprises in the solar jobs census are the “red” states of North Carolina and Texas, which respectively clocked in at #4 and #5 behind Nevada in the category of highest percentage of solar jobs growth (Minnesota at #2 and Illinois at #3 round out the top five).

That brings us right back around to the Keystone XL pipeline. Given the small number of permanent jobs involved, we were just wondering about the particularly high level of Republican preoccupation with this particular fossil fuel project. In the latest development, just yesterday Republican leadership in the US Congress passed legislation to greenlight Keystone.

The Obama Administration has already signaled that a veto is more than likely. That’s because, aside from any other issues, the State Department, not Congress, has the authority to pass judgement on cross-border energy projects (for those of you new to the topic, Keystone is a pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Canada to export opportunities in the Gulf Coast of the US).

Meanwhile, Speaker of the House of Representatives John Boehner (R-Ohio) tossed some verbal hand grenades to gin up public opinion in favor of Keystone, as related by our friends over at The Hill:

Instead of listening to people, the president is standing with a bunch of left-fringe extremists and anarchists.

Ohhh myyyy.

If you want to know some of those extremists and anarchists by name, rank, and serial number, the Natural Resource Defense Council has a handy guide.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



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