Earlier this week, Trump announced his decision to impose a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels. A tariff will have a negative impact on solar – one of the fastest growing industries in the entire country.
Environmental Defense Fund released its second annual jobs report yesterday, In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the New American Workforce, following Trump’s decision. The report shows that solar jobs now outnumber those in the coal industry 1.6 to 1, with coal employing only 160,000. Even better, these jobs are local, well-paying and available to individuals from all types of educational backgrounds and career history.
But now, solar jobs are at risk. Yesterday, Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) estimated as many as 23,000 jobs would be lost under Trump’s tariff. The supportive policy environment that encouraged this growth is no longer in place. Let me explain.
Trump imposes tariff – what’s at stake?
The solar tariff will damage the booming domestic solar industry that currently employs 260,000 hard-working Americans across the country, nearly 1 in 10 of which are veterans. Even before Trump came out with his decision, market uncertainty contributed to Q3 solar installations dropping over 50 percent behind 2016 levels, with cumulative 2017 installations 22 percent behind those in 2016.
Here’s why: low-cost solar modules manufactured abroad make solar affordable for a greater number of people. That played a significant role in why we saw the industry grow 24.5 percent, adding jobs at nearly 17 times the rate of the overall economy in 2016. A 30 percent tariff will significantly raise the price of solar modules, driving down demand. When there’s reduced demand, there are fewer projects, which means – fewer jobs. This could be a detrimental decision for those whose jobs depend on it – like Jonathan Gensler.
Jonathan Gensler, a native of West Virginia and former officer in the U.S. Army, founded Revive Energy just last year. The organization is working to bring the benefits of the advanced energy economy to parts of America that have been left behind. And it does this by providing work for military veterans and displaced former coal-miners. Local economies grow, resiliency is improved, customers save money on energy bills, and jobs are supported. It’s a win all around.
Jonathan, and the employees of Revive Energy – and all other employees in this industry – depend on the growth of the clean energy market to be fostered. The good news is that long-term projections suggest that while the impact of uncertainty in the current market will have a delayed effect on market growth projections, a strong future for renewable energy industry employment is expected.
Make a difference – become a catalyst
Which brings me to my next point: governments and businesses are stepping up to become key catalysts for supporting the growth in the clean energy economy. There’s been a wave of public goals and commitments from states, cities and businesses for initiatives around climate resilience, greenhouse gas emissions reductions and renewable energy. For example, 455 U.S. cities, 15 states and 325 institutions of higher learning, and 1,780 businesses have committed to the Paris Climate Agreement goals under the We Are Still In pledge. Renewable energy procured by corporations grew 93 percent from 2016-2017, bringing with it jobs. That’s huge!
Our report has compelling data about these sectors that should have you feeling optimistic, but also weary of what’s at stake. It might also have you asking “what can I do?” The answer is simple: encourage your policy makers to support clean energy legislation. For companies, take action by making commitments to source renewable energy, setting Science Based Targets, signing on to initiatives like We Are Still In, filing public comments to the EPA on the proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, or even sign up to host an EDF Climate Corps fellow.
Trump’s decision will cost the loss of good American jobs and slow the transition to a clean energy economy. As someone who prides himself as being business-savvy, I’m disappointed to see a decision so out of line with economics.
The report includes sources to data we’ve referenced throughout this post.
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