Solar jobs could be the key to Virginia’s economic prosperity for the next few decades.
That’s not just my opinion, as someone inside the solar industry. That prediction for Virginia’s future comes from the very top: Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe.
Governor McAuliffe on Virginia’s New Economy
During his time in office so far, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has often spoken of the need to move the state into a new economic model.
Virginia’s new economic model would take the state away from its traditional reliance on the federal government, whose spending in Virginia has been declining, and into industries in the private sector with good growth prospects. In January 2017, McAuliffe repeated this message in his State of the Commonwealth Address.
“For years, Virginia’s economy had floated atop a massive wave of federal spending that created millions of jobs and brought billions in economic activity to Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads. That relationship created economic opportunity, but it also made us overly reliant on federal spending,” McAuliffe explained.
This left the state especially vulnerable when defense cuts came in the form of federal budget sequestration, which cost Virginia $9.8 billion and 154,000 jobs between 2011 and 2013 alone, according to the governor. Barring congressional action, more cuts could be headed Virginia’s way in October.
To forestall economic disaster, the state needed to retool its economy. As McAuliffe put it,
We needed to build a new Virginia economy that would grow and create opportunity no matter what happens in Washington, Beijing, or anywhere else in the world.
We needed to redouble our focus on economic development and make Virginia more attractive to job creators in sectors like cyber security, bioscience, data analytics, advanced manufacturing, and autonomous vehicles.
One growing industry missing from the governor’s list was clean energy. Fortunately, later on he did mention that the state has made progress in several key areas, including energy: “We leapt from the back of the pack on cyber security, bioscience, autonomous vehicles, and renewable energy to become a national leader in these cutting edge industries.”
One of the Fastest Growing Industries in Virginia
I’m glad that McAuliffe did recognize Virginia’s accomplishments in clean energy so far.
Since his speech, the Solar Foundation released a report showing just how much progress each state has made on solar. Its report for Virginia shows that solar is helping to lead the Old Dominion’s transition from federal spending of the past to technologies of the future. Just consider a few of the findings from the Virginia Solar Jobs Census:
- Jobs in solar power grew 53 times faster than the state economy as a whole, with 1,273 solar jobs added in 2016
- More than 3,200 people work in the solar industry in Virginia in 2017, which helps the state rank #20 nationwide for number of solar jobs
- Solar jobs are expected to grow at 9% in 2017
- In total, 177 solar companies in the state have installed enough solar panels to power nearly 24,000 homes — for comparison, that’s enough solar energy to power the whole city of Lynchburg
Solar Jobs Can’t Be Outsourced or Automated
Unlike jobs in many industries, most solar jobs can’t be either outsourced to foreign countries or taken over by robots or automation. Putting solar panels on the roof of a home, which is the vast majority of solar jobs in Virginia, requires a human worker based in the local area.
And solar jobs pay well. On average, a solar installer in Virginia earns more than $20 per hour.
Finally, most solar companies in the state so far are based in Virginia. Like Main Street Solar, we’re your neighbors. That means we’re committed to our customers and our communities. We’re not going anywhere anytime soon — we’re here to stay if you need us. And we’re here to stay to help build the next generation of Virginia’s economy.
— Andrew Brenner, Main Street Solar