If solar jobs elevated nationwide and notably in the Southeast, why did Tennessee lose solar jobs in 2019?

Bryan Jacob | February 25, 2020 | Solar, Tennessee

While solar jobs elevated in most states of the Southeast final yr, the Solar Jobs Census final week revealed that Tennessee misplaced solar jobs in 2019. The state’s southern neighbor, Georgia, witnessed the highest percentage of solar job growth of any state in the country (+29.8%), but Tennessee had the third-highest proportion job losses (-10.6%). Why is that?

The Solar Job Census report expresses that “[i]n 2019, Tennessee gained capacity but lost solar jobs, which likely reflects workers coming in from out of state.” But I contend that it had extra to do with insurance policies and choices made by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

Full disclosure, SACE is among the many plaintiffs in a lawsuit presently pending over the “Anti Solar Rate Changes” TVA has been systematically implementing.

National Solar Jobs Census, 2019. Photo Credit: Solar Foundation

We’ve Seen This Coming

In 2018, TVA structured a discriminatory Grid Access Charge (GAC) as a desperate measure to limit new technologies and customer freedoms. This fastened charge applies to Local Power Companies (LPCs) on the wholesale stage and is “substantially and covertly transform[ing] TVA rates to the detriment of customers, particularly low-income, fixed-income, solar, and efficient customers.

TVA additionally diminished funds supplied to prospects with solar panels after which abandoned the Green Power Providers program altogether. This fully undercuts the financial worth proposition for residential and small enterprise prospects who might need in any other case been inclined to take a position in solar on their very own properties. The utility has turn into more and more hostile to solar and has earned the dubious distinction of SunBlocker in our “Solar in the Southeast” annual report two years in a row.

2018 Snapshot from “Solar in the Southeast” Report

Sustaining Solar Jobs Requires a Steady Pipeline of Solar Projects

And I believe that’s the largest perpetrator for the distinction in Tennessee solar jobs between 2018 and 2019. Back in 2016, TVA had commissioned a 53 MW solar project (the biggest project envisioned for the state on the time). Construction of that project in 2018 in the end represented some 300 solar jobs. (In truth, trying again at prior editions of the Solar Jobs Census, Tennessee had gained 270 solar jobs in 2018 in comparison with 2017.)

And that wasn’t the one vital solar project in 2018. Two 15 MW tasks and a few smaller tasks (together with the Music City Solar project in Nashville) had been additionally constructed that yr. Unfortunately, TVA had not continued to fee subsequent tasks of that scale to maintain the 2018 momentum. The U.S. Energy Information Administration reported solely three, small solar tasks for a complete of 5 MW underneath development in 2019.

These “boom and bust” cycles wreak havoc on the business — to not point out the individuals who depend on these jobs. 2019 might have been a “planning” yr for TVA, however hyperbolic claims from their Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) about “up to” 14 GW of solar should not going to ship the form of enlargement of solar jobs that neighboring state are having fun with. Jobs will solely be created when the plan turns into actuality and tasks of that scale are commissioned.

Of course, solar tasks for Facebook and Google captured headlines in late 2018 and early 2019 (and two of these will probably be in Tennessee, 150 MW every). Jobs ensuing from these tasks ought to peak in 2021 however hopefully will begin contributing some employment this yr, as nicely.

More just lately, TVA has introduced several new utility-scale solar projects (three in Tennessee together with the one for Vanderbilt). Those will convey 215 MW of extra solar to the state and are scheduled for operation by the tip of 2022. So as development winds down on the Facebook and Google tasks, this extra pipeline of tasks might maintain these jobs.

Economic growth is without doubt one of the core obligations of TVA. Creating and sustaining solar jobs is a element of that. TVA is in a singular place to keep away from one other growth and bust cycle. Now is the time to begin awarding solar tasks for 2023 and past.

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