AZ solar advocates blame utility battle for jobs losses

Arizona Solar Farm

Arizona was one among just a couple of states in the country that lost solar jobs in 2013, according to the recent Solar Jobs Census released by the Solar Foundation.

Solar advocates say the more than 1,200 solar jobs lost in the state last year could have been the result of a threatening battle with utility Arizona Public Service over net metering benefits. Net metering is the practice of a utility paying rooftop solarcustomers for the excess power they put onto the grid – usually at the retail electric rate. While the Arizona Corporations Commission approved a mild $5 per month tax on APS solar customers, that seeming solar victory came at the end of a nearly year-long battle with the utility, which was requesting approval of $50 to $100 a month from solar customers.

Carrie Cullen Hitt, senior vice president at Solar Energy Industries Association, told the Tucson Sentinel that the job losses could be due in part to the intimidation factor that came with those threats to make solar significantly more expensive.

The policy changes have resulted in more paperwork and have made the future affordability of solar appear less predictable.

Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed – TUSK, a right-wing solar advocacy group, argues the APS threat to up the cost of going solar is at the heart of the jobs losses.

“APS may not have succeeded in getting a $50 a month tax imposed on rooftop solar customers,” TUSK co-chairman Barry Goldwater Jr. said, “but their efforts undermined the business world’s confidence in Arizona as an attractive market in which to invest and grow.”

He said there’s still hope for the state’s solar industry as long as utility attacks on the industry can be kept to a minimum.

Of course, other experts argue it’s possible the battle with APS isn’t the biggest culprit in Arizona’s 12.7 percent solar jobs loss year over year.

Construction of the massive Solana Generating Station near Gila Bend wrapped up this year, meaning numerous solar construction jobs went away. The Suntech also closed a solar panel manufacturing plant in Goodyear.

That closure combined with the solar industry’s high-profile fight with APS could have shaken confidence in the state’s solar future, Solar Foundation Executive Director Andrea Luecke told the Sentinel.

It’s certainly unusual for a state, especially one with the vast solar resources of Arizona, to see solar jobs decline in a year when the nation added nearly 20 percent more solar jobs. However, Arizona still had the second most solar jobs of any state in the country in 2013. Only California boasts more solar workers.

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