After successful committee hearings, the Solar Fairness Act is advancing to the floor of the Washington State Senate, where legislators will soon vote on the bill. The legislation provides a crucial update to net metering, the core policy driving solar deployment in Washington. It protects the investment of home- and business-owners who have already adopted clean energy, and preserves the option for new investment in solar.
Washington utilities are in legislative limbo, as many have surpassed the current statutory net metering threshold and lack further policy direction from the state. By raising the minimum net metering requirement 8-fold from its outdated 1996 benchmark, the Solar Fairness Act provides greater certainty for customers, utilities, and the solar industry about the state’s commitment to smart, local, clean energy.
Washington reported 18 percent solar job growth in 2018 according to the Solar Foundation’s February release of its ninth annual National Solar Jobs Census. The state was one of 29 to experience job growth last year despite a 3 percent decline in solar jobs nationally. Overall, solar employment has grown 159 percent since the first Census in 2010, for a current total of about 242,000 solar jobs across all 50 states.
Solar job growth in Washington represents at least 600 new jobs, resulting in more than 4,000 solar jobs state-wide. The report ranks Washington among the top twenty states for solar employment. In addition, the ratio of solar workers to the overall Washington workforce grew in 2018 over the prior year, reflecting the solar industry’s growing importance in the state’s economy.
Analysis by Solar Installers of Washington shows that much of the 2018 job growth was driven by the state’s passage of the 2017 Solar Jobs Bill, which provided incentive reform for investment in residential, commercial, community, and utility-scale projects. The popularity of the program resulted in deployment of more than 106 megawatts of solar, stimulating more than $1.2 billion dollars in private investment in solar installation and manufacturing. Depletion of those incentives in January, however, despite what was intended to be a multi-year incentive program, is now expected to constrain solar investment and job growth in Washington for 2019.
Washington’s ambitious clean energy goals require a skilled and stable solar workforce. The job census results for Washington illustrate the effectiveness of state incentives in stimulating renewable energy markets, but also underscore the importance of designing policies that support sustainable growth and provide certainty over the long-term.