ATLANTA — The various aspects of Georgia’s solar industry created jobs six times faster than the overall state economy, according to a report released Thursday by the National Solar Foundation.
The report ranks the state as having the 14th largest solar-power workforce with 2,900 employees split between manufacturing, installation of solar panels and administration/sales. That represents a 13 percent increase over the past year.
Most of that growth is attributed to Georgia Power Co.’s reaction to prodding from the Public Service Commission to buy more solar power. The utility launched a program to contract with independent companies which led to construction of solar farms across the state.
Industry advocates forecast a new surge in hiring after passage of legislation to open popular financing options to homeowners and small businesses who want to lease their rooftops in exchange for free electricity. That bill passed the House unanimously this week.
“Third-party financing is a huge driver of solar growth across the country,” said Andrea Luecke, executive director of the Solar Foundation.
States that have bigger and faster-growing solar employment, like No. 1 California, Massachusetts and New Jersey, have permitted third-party financing for years. Luecke predicted it would catapult Georgia into the top five states soon.
The report was greeted with enthusiasm by the local industry.
“We are pleased that report confirms GaSEIA’s position that investing in solar in Georgia is good for the all utility customers and the tradesmen who do the installations,” said Jason Rooks, spokesman for the Georgia Solar Energy Industries Association.
The report offers a number of attractions to policymakers eager for rapid expansion of the state’s employment. Wages are comparable to manufacturing, and most jobs don’t require even a high-school diploma, which is a plus for a state with a long history of high dropouts. But the start-up is quicker for installation companies than attracting a car maker or other large factory.
“These jobs are excellent jobs for people who don’t have high-school degrees or a college degree or particular training,” Luecke said. “What companies are looking for is experience, not training.”
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