As PA’s solar subsidies wane, local solar industry is losing jobs

As PA’s solar subsidies wane, local solar industry is losing jobsPennsylvania’s solar industry growth over the past few years was largely supported by a $100 million Sunshine Program and a Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) market. But the short term success of the programs has led to a market that’s now too big to support its growth.

Funds left in Sunshine are nearly depleted, and the high demand for solar in the state has dropped the sale price of SRECs from an anticipated $300 to $50 per 1,000 kilowatts produced.

“Almost because of the fact we had that funding our SREC market has crashed,” said Ron Celentano of Celentano Energy Services and president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association.

After Pennsylvania’s former Governor Ed Rendell (D) signed the bill into law in 2008, growth in solar snowballed.

“We went from 300 systems to 5,200 hundred systems on the ground. We’re three times over what we need,” Celentano said.

The lowered cost of the SRECs has made it harder for solar projects in the state to secure financing.

“It’s sort of limping along,” he said.

And that’s already impacted solar jobs and solar installers in Pennsylvania.

“Last year there were 6,700 solar-related jobs in Pennsylvania. It went down to 4,703,” Celentano said, referring to numbers from the recently published Solar Foundation’s Solar Jobs Census. “Some companies have dropped from 50 employees to five. It’s hard to put a real number on it. But we’re seeing it clearly as many hundreds of jobs are being lost.”

There is still some incentive money left in the program. And there’s a pending Oct. 31 deadline for projects. If they don’t reach their requirements on time, the grants they received will go back to the Sunshine pot and be reserved to other projects in January 2012.

The state’s solar industry isn’t looking for an extension of those policies or a new round of Sunshine funding, according to Celentano.

His organizations worked with State Representative Chris Ross (R-Chester) to craft HB 1580, a bill that would increase the state’s solar carve-out to .5 percent by June 2020, and close Pennsylvania’s borders to buying SREC credits from other markets.

The new bill won’t revitalize the solar industry entirely, but it will help stabilize it.

“If this doesn’t pass, we can’t get any headroom for more solar coming into the marketplace. This could lead to spiking prices,” Celentano said.

Thus far the bill has wide support, but it was held until October, though developed earlier this year.

“We had at least 30 to 40 cosponsors on a bill that actually didn’t exist. There’s a lot of bipartisan support,” Celentano said.

He added that there’s also a companion bill working its way through the Senate and that current Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is likely to sign the bill if it crosses his desk.

Image courtesy of the Berks County Solar Tour in Pennsylvania