Once a Solar Industry Leader, NJ Now Lags in Job Creation

By Briana Vannozzi

Once considered a solar industry leader, New Jersey now lags in the number of jobs we’re creating in the field.

“New Jersey’s solar market continues to grow, but what we’re seeing is other states leapfrogging ahead of us,” said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

In its annual survey, national nonprofit The Solar Foundation finds while the rest of the country saw a 25 percent jump in solar job growth, New Jersey’s fell by 14 percent, losing about 1,000 jobs. It now ranks ninth in the nation when it used to hold the number two position.

“It is a little surprising. You know last year was a banner year for New Jersey. We had 350 megawatts that got installed. We just broke 2 gigawatts. So, you know, the market is growing, but not every part of the market is growing, especially our commercial sector,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley says Massachusetts has twice as many solar jobs as the state because it’s created long-term stability for the market. And that’s what New Jersey is lacking right now.

“We think that one of the reasons jobs numbers are down this year is because of policy uncertainty. Under New Jersey law, the amount of solar energy credits that utilities have to buy really drops off in 2018. We’ve been working on a bill, in the Legislature, that would stabilize that market but that bill has not passed yet. That uncertainty has led firms to slow down their hiring and it’s slowed down the market,” said Sean Gallagher, vice president of state affairs at Solar Energy Industries Association.

“This administration has not put a lot of emphasis on the growth of renewable energy, but there are other factors too. New Jersey adopted an incentive system that naturally resulted in boom and bust cycles. So we’ve just come off of a bust cycle and last year was another boom cycle so it will just repeat itself again and again,” said Lyle Rawlings, president of Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association.

Rawlings is a leading solar developer in New Jersey. In addition to a long-term plan, he believes the state’s incentive program needs changing. Right now, utility customers pay for electricity produced through solar by surcharges on their monthly bill.

“We have the most costly incentive system for ratepayers. If we’re really going to grow renewable energy and make renewable energy the majority in New Jersey in the future, we can’t do it that way. We have to go to a much less costly incentivizing solar,” Rawlings said.

The annual census report shows one out of every 50 jobs created in the U.S. came from the solar industry. And it’s a market New Jersey solar advocates don’t want to lose.

There are two bills pending aimed at reinvigorating the state’s solar industry. One would require New Jersey to get 80 percent of its electricity from renewable energy by 2050. The other is looked at as more of a stop-gap, a short-term fix to advert a collapse. Both pieces of legislation are stalled.