The solar industry has had another banner year for job growth. According to the Solar Foundation’s 6th annual solar jobs census, over 35,000 new solar jobs were added in North America in 2015, bringing the total count of U.S. solar jobs to over 208,000. This number represents a 20 percent increase from 2014, and 123 percent increase from 2010. In fact, one out of every 83 jobs created in the country in 2015 was a solar job, meaning that 1.2 percent of national new job growth last year can be attributed to the solar industry. Put another way, the solar industry is creating new jobs approximately 12 times faster than any other industry in the US. 2015 was the third consecutive year to report similar results, showing a consistent trend. Looking ahead, it is expected that solar jobs will continue to grow over the next several years as well. According to the census data, current solar employers are anticipating an increase to 239,625 solar jobs in the next twelve months alone, a 15 percent increase from the 2015 data. The newly extended solar investment tax credit (ITC) that SACE advocated for in December 2015 has given the industry a lot of confidence for 2016 and beyond. Greentech Media Research forecasted a 54 percent increase in solar installations as a direct result of the ITC extension through 2020.
Unlike many other industries, solar investment and deployment creates local jobs that cannot be outsourced. The Solar Foundation found that wages were very competitive and provided domestic living-wage opportunities. Median wage data ranged from $21 per hour to $28.85 per hour, depending on the specific job segment. While the industry experienced job creation throughout, the majority of solar job growth has been in the area of installation, with the demand for solar installers growing by nearly 24 percent, with employers reporting it is “very difficult” to find and hire qualified solar employees. Experience is the most sought-after attribute, more so than formal education, with two-thirds of job openings asking for experience and only 35 percent requiring a bachelor’s degree. It sounds like it might be time for job seekers to brush up on their solar experience and training and go solar. SACE will continue to advocate for policies that support a robust solar market that continues to grow more solar jobs!
Earlier this month, Georgia Power Company, the state’s largest utility, filed a new Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) with the Georgia Public Service Commission that will dim the lights on Georgia’s transition to clean energy. The IRP is Georgia Power’s 20-year energy supply plan that must be approved by the Commission every three years. This long-term plan informs and guides the resources used to meet the energy needs of its customers.
In the 2016 plan, Georgia Power proposes a modest, new market-based renewables program called the Renewable Energy Development Initiative (REDI), which would include new solar, wind and/or biomass projects. At first glance the REDI program appears to be good news, but upon a closer look, the proposal actually results in a reduction in the investment of renewable projects by the Company as compared to recent years.
Georgia Power has touted the benefits that renewables offer to its customers. Georgia already has 20,000 jobs in the clean energy sector and there is more abundant, clean and cheap wind and solar power readily available to serve Georgia Power customers today, yet we and our allies believe that the proposal lacks the vision and commitment their customers deserve.
Not only does the plan cut the growth of renewable energy, it flat-lines the utility’s energy efficiency programs that help families save money and prioritizes old, dirty and expensive coal-fired power plants to meet any future demand for electricity.
Georgia Power’s IRP has far-reaching implications for Georgians. With the impacts of climate change at our doorstop and the Clean Power Plan finalized, SACE is disappointed in Georgia Power’s blindness to the changing energy landscape. We cannot afford to continue supporting high-risk energy choices, such as Georgia Power’s oldest and most expensive coal-fired coal plants, Plant Hammond and McIntosh. And further consideration of possibly investing in water-guzzling, risky nuclear reactors is not a sound option either. The ever-escalating price tag of Plant Vogtle is already burning today’s utility customers (see more in the story below). We need a strong, clean energy portfolio for the future – not one mired in the past’s bad decisions.
Over the course of the next few months, the public will have the opportunity to participate in hearings on the plan before the Georgia Public Service Commission, and SACE will provide information for how members and supporters can get involved. SACE will also engage in the proceedings advocating for your clean energy future – to help protect the health and wellbeing of all Georgians. We hope the Commission will continue to support the growth of the clean energy industry by scaling up Georgia Power’s renewable energy portfolio.
South Carolina reached a major milestone in advancing offshore wind energy development late last year when the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), the federal regulator that oversees offshore wind development, published two major documents that will hopefully lead to eventual offshore wind leasing. The two documents are a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) and a Call for Information and Nominations (“call”) on certain areas preliminarily identified as potentially good areas to develop offshore wind energy.
Altogether, BOEM has identified four separate areas off South Carolina’s coast, totaling 1,167 square nautical miles—an area large enough to generate a huge portion of the state’s electricity. This area is nationally significant as it more than doubles the potentially leaseable offshore wind area in the United States.
As the state with the second greatest developable offshore wind resource in the Atlantic, South Carolina stands to benefit greatly from future development of offshore wind farms. While offshore wind is more expensive to develop than onshore, it is also a very high-value power, with the ability to offset very costly summer peaking generation. Additionally, Clemson research has shown that offshore wind poses a great potential source of economic development for South Carolina, which is why communities such as North Myrtle Beach, Charleston, North Charleston, and even the South Carolina Legislature have embraced the opportunities presented by offshore wind. Add in the significant environmental benefits of offshore wind, especially in light of the new carbon regulations for carbon-burning power plants, and offshore wind may prove to be an extremely valuable asset for our state and region.
The identification of the “call areas” has been years in the making, largely informed by South Carolina stakeholder meetings of local, state, and federal agencies and organizations, including SACE, to identify areas that balance high suitability for wind development against potentially conflicting uses, such as artificial reefs, areas of high boat traffic, military activity, and areas of high bird activity like Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge and around Winyah Bay.
BOEM’s announcement kicks off a 60-day comment period and BOEM is also seeking public input on identifying the environmental issues and alternatives to be considered in the EA. Instructions on how to submit comments is on BOEM’s South Carolina webpage here.
SACE welcomes this progress and is eager to continue working alongside local, state, and federal groups to help site offshore wind farms in the most responsible and economic areas.
Not surprisingly the cost estimate for building the two new Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactors at Southern Company’s Plant Vogtle near Waynesboro, Georgia along the Savannah River keeps going up even as schedule delays continue. (The same can be said for the reactors being built at SCANA’s V.C. Summer nuclear plant in South Carolina.) Through careful and persistent questioning during the December hearing before the Georgia Public Service Commission (PSC) on the 13th semi-annual Vogtle Construction Monitoring (VCM) docket, SACE was able to tease out what the current cost estimates actually are.
Our attorney, former PSC Commissioner Robert “Bobby” Baker, confirmed that the 46 percent tax gross up rate on the approximately $2.4 billion in financing costs associated with the 39-month delay should be included, bringing Georgia Power’s estimated cost to over $9.5 billion, more than $3 billion above the certified cost from 2009 of $6.113 billion. Given Georgia Power is just one partner in the project; the total cost estimate is now around $21 billion. You can watch videos of these discoveries via our blog post.
The Vogtle project is at least 39-months delayed; though more than five years in, only 26 percent of construction is complete and all project benefits have been eliminated by the detriments (e.g. increased financing costs and replacement fuel costs). The $21 billion total current project cost estimate represents a staggering increase since the $14.1 billion estimate in 2009 (this does not include the recent litigation settlement or additional delay costs) – much of which will be borne by Georgia Power ratepayers.
At the end of January, SACE filed our final brief, which included a number of common-sense recommendations that we think the Commission should adopt in order to offer some protections for customers who are potentially going to pay much more for the Vogtle reactors than they were originally led to believe. The PSC is set to vote on approving the $148 million in expenditures on February 18, 2016.
This complicated situation became even more so when Georgia Power filed information about the $918 million settlement agreement between the utility owners and lead contractor Westinghouse that was announced in late October and recently finalized. Then, at the beginning of this month the Commission approved what we believe constitutes an expedited prudency review.
One thing is certain, building new nuclear reactors is a very complicated and costly endeavor at all levels and the expansion of Plant Vogtle and V.C. Summer still has many, many hurdles ahead. With your continued support, SACE will keep fighting for cleaner, safer and more cost-effective forms of energy!