In 2017, jobs in the solar energy industry declined for the first time in 7 years, according to data from the annual census of the Solar Foundation. A total of nearly 10,000 jobs were lost, representing 4 percent of the entire industry. According to a report from the foundation released Wednesday, the Trump administration’s recent decision to impose tariffs on solar imports is likely to exacerbate the problem. Their findings were reported by the Huffington Post.
In 2016, the industry enjoy a record-breaking boom, creating roughly 1 in 50 new jobs in the US. That year, the industry employed 260,077 people, more than half of which were working at companies that installed solar panels. A slight drop in 2017 was expected after the boom, but the industry relied heavily on importing cheaper solar panels from overseas – and the recent move by the Trump administration is likely to cause problems for the industry, resulting in a further decline in job growth. Those imports were largely responsible for sparking growth totaling 168 percent since 2010.
According to Ed Gilliland, the foundation’s senior director, speaking to Huffington Post:
“It’s very likely there will be a slowdown in job growth, perhaps more job declines into 2018 and in 2019 as well.”
Several domestic manufacturers filed a complaint last year with the U.S. International Trade Commission, saying it was impossible for domestic manufacturers to compete with the cheap imports. The complaint called on the Trump administration to impose tariffs based on the 1974 Trade Act, doubling the price of imports. Other manufacturers warned that such tariffs would jeopardize jobs at factories, in an open letter to the commission.
But last month, the administration moved forward with a 30 percent tariff on solar imports.
About half of the solar equipment in use in year is expected to be produced abroad. The tariffs have been forecasted to reduce installations of solar panels by 11 percent over 5 years, according to renewable energy research firm GTM research.
It’s hard to say whether 2018 numbers will be directly affected, since materials have already been purchased for many solar projects. However, according to Gilliland:
“If the prices go up instead of down, which could happen because of the trade case, then we very likely could see a fall off in installation jobs, and potentially even a falloff in manufacturing jobs as their installers are using less of the manufactured goods.”
However, he added:
“What we’re seeing is many of the states are still setting renewable portfolio standards and setting goals for renewable energy. So there’s very strong momentum toward renewable energy.”
Despite other setbacks, 29 states saw increases in solar industry jobs in 2017. States and cities have taken the lead on climate change action since the Trump administration moved to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement.