The Maryland-DC-Delaware-Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association (MDV-SEIA) welcomed a new report from the Solar Foundation that found the number of solar jobs in the Commonwealth increased 10% in 2017. According to the national solar jobs census, Virginia added 329 solar jobs. The state now employs 3,565 solar workers, which includes rooftop installers, engineers, sales and marketing professionals, developers, and electricians.
Virginia has become an emerging solar market as businesses and residents alike recognize the cost savings of renewable energy. Last year, Amazon brought five new solar projects online to power its cloud data centers. The arrays totaled 180 megawatts, enough to power 34,000 homes. In October, Facebook announced it would invest $1 billion toward a data center in Henrico County and build multiple solar facilities to meet all the data center’s electricity needs.
Devin Welch, co-founder of Charlottesville-based Sun Tribe Solar, notes, “The solar industry is a major driver of job growth nationally and especially here in Virginia. The last two years have seen an explosion in the demand for renewable energy. To meet that demand, tens of thousands of new clean energy jobs have been created. Many of these jobs are high-paying and don’t require a college education, bringing opportunity to a segment of the job market that has been contracting for decades. We added over a dozen full-time positions to the Sun Tribe team this year. Put simply, the solar industry is hiring.”
Despite recent growth, Virginia lags behind other states when it comes to a strong policy portfolio. The Commonwealth ranks 31st in solar jobs per capita – this could improve should the legislature address barriers to solar deployment. For example, households that install a system above 10 kW incur a standby charge on their electricity bill, reducing the cost savings solar homeowners enjoy in other states. Net energy metering – which enables solar homeowners to be credited for the electricity they send back to the grid – is capped at just 1% of aggregated electricity demand.
Paul Risberg, President of Altenergy in Stauton and Charlottesville, remarks, “While the challenges of building solar in Virginia are significant, Altenergy has grown our staff within the Commonwealth from 18 to 28, and nationally to 54. We are confident that growth will continue, as the demand for clean energy and the desire to limit environmental exploitation grows each day.”
To make Virginia a leader in solar policy, MDV-SEIA has been building policy consensus among investor-owned utilities, co-ops, environmental advocates, and manufacturers in a process now referred to as the Rubin Group. This year, the association helped craft legislative language to declare 4,500 MW of solar power in the public interest, representing a direct investment of $7 billion in the Virginia economy, generating millions in tax revenue for localities, and saving ratepayers money in the long run. The General Assembly is slated to vote on the legislation as part of the “Grid Modernization” bill, SB 966 and HB 1558, which passed out of the House Commerce and Labor Committee on Thursday and then passed the senate on Friday.
In 2018, MDV-SEIA will reconvene with other energy stakeholders to improve rate design for households and businesses that want to go solar, and increase customer access to clean, renewable electricity.