Job Growth in Offshore Wind. Job Loss in Solar?

As I pondered what to write about in April, I couldn't decide between two important topics within renewable energy job news: 'job growth' in offshore wind or potential 'job loss' in solar? Ultimately, I decided that since they are both very immediate, I will address both now with our subscriber base of 17,000 clean energy professionals. Thanks for staying with me here.

77,000 jobs in 8 years!

I just returned yesterday from the International Offshore Wind Partnering Forum (IPF) in Atlantic City, NJ. So much optimism! So much opportunity! Better late than never, the US is finally developing, engineering, constructing, and even presently operating an offshore wind industry. While we're 20 years behind Europe, we'll be catching up quickly thanks to the Biden Administration's 30GW by 2030 initiatives. Currently, only seven turbines are spinning on our side of the Atlantic Ocean (30MW), but two projects are under construction, with many more in the development phase. In addition, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) just recently sold six leases in the New England and Mid Atlantic and put out an RFI for Oregon and the Central Atlantic region.

An entire supply chain needs to be established and the workforce needs to be trained. All states are pushing for local hiring and US manufacturing. As such, New Jersey has launched the New Jersey Wind Port that will generate $500M in revenue in Salem County, and is opening a manufacturing site in Paulsboro that will construct the massive 400' long, 2,500 ton, 40' in diameter steel foundations (yeah, read that again!). Ports up and down the east coast need to be expanded (and are starting to be expanded) to handle the size and weight of materials, equipment, and ships for the offshore wind industry. Transmission & Distribution lines and substations need to be upgraded and/or replaced (depending on who you talk to). This equates to the creation of 77,000 US jobs(!) for facilities that will power 10,000,000 homes on the east coast, and, most importantly, cut 78,000,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

For the sake of comparison, let's note that Europe currently has 25GW of offshore wind capacity (planning another 60GW by 2030) across 12 countries. This represents $31B worth of investment and 300,000 good-paying jobs. This is a higher number of jobs than the entire US solar industry. And, speaking of the solar industry...

100,000 jobs at risk?

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), yes, there are 100,000 US-based solar jobs at risk because of the Auxin Solar circumvention case sitting with the Commerce Department right now. If you ask Wood Mackenzie, the number is 70,000 jobs at risk, while the American Clean Power Association (ACP) cites 38,000 jobs. Regardless of who is correct - any of these figures represent a pretty substantial number of jobs.

80% of all solar projects in the US are currently experiencing delays or cancellations because of a supply chain shortage. My customers are project developers and EPCs, so I hear the stories first hand.

If you're not familiar with the case, read more here. If you've been working in solar for as long as I have, you remember the uncertainty of the ITC expiring and what that did to job loss. If you've been working in wind energy for as long as I have, you remember what happened to the industry when the PTC wasn't renewed speedily. Uncertainty kills investments (including development and construction) in an industry as small as ours. The longer it takes for the Commerce Department to make a decision, the more US-based jobs we will lose in the solar industry.

Now, I've underlined US-based jobs twice, for good reason! Even if it were possible to move all the southeast Asia solar manufacturing jobs to the US, it does not equal the potential job loss that we could experience being in limbo. Automation is king in scaling manufacturing in most industries (including solar) so I don't envision US based solar factories employing 100,000 people anytime soon. Yes, local manufacturing is a good idea, but it can't happen overnight. Show me another industry being put through the ringers like this. Show me another industry that has faced this amount of uncertainty and adversity. Because I can't think of one.

But what can you do? For starters, fill out the survey from SEIA to provide the impact on your business from the Auxin Solar tariff petition. As a proud SEIA member, I can absolutely state that SEIA is lobbying on our behalf. Write to your local or state lawmaker! Secretary Granholm (DOE) and Secretary Raimonda (Commerce) are hearing from State Representatives and State Senators, but they need to hear it more and hear it often. We will lose thousands of US-based solar jobs if the Commerce Department waits until August to make a decision, and we will lose thousands of additional jobs if further tariffs are implemented upon our supply chain. Use your voice for the good of the solar industry.

April 30, 2022 William V. Liuzza

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