Minnesota solar-energy industry employment fell nearly 6% in 2019, to 4,335 jobs, following a surge in recent years.
The decline of 267 jobs last year followed increases of nearly 50% in 2017 and 8% in 2018, according to the National Solar Jobs Census 2019 released Wednesday by the Solar Foundation and BW Research Partners.
Minnesota last year slipped from 15th to 17th in terms of solar-energy jobs.
Nationally, the solar horizon became sunnier in 2019. Through November, the solar industry grew 2.3%, or 5,643 jobs across the U.S., compared to the first 11 months of 2018.
“Annual data from the National Solar Jobs Census has found that since 2010, solar employment has grown 167% from just over 93,000 to 249,983 jobs in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico,” the Solar Foundation report concluded.
According to the report, 31 states saw solar-job growth in 2019, including Florida, Georgia, New York and Texas. The solar-energy job market increased 44% between 2014 and 2019, a gain of 76,000 jobs; about five times faster than job growth overall.
Solar represents about 2.6% of overall U.S. electricity generation, yet it employs twice as many people as the coal industry. The authors of the report said the U.S. oil and gas business is the only energy sector with more employment than solar.
In Minnesota, the solar industry, particularly through expanding solar gardens on acres of vacant land, including farms, plans to increase its electrical-energy output from 2% of the Minnesota mix to 10% over the next decade, according to solar engineer John Dunlop, a pioneer of the state’s renewable-energy industry and chairman of last year’s American Solar Energy Society conference in Bloomington.
“Demand for clean, renewable electricity will increase dramatically to meet the needs of the electric power, transportation and new buildings sectors,” Dunlop said. “The job growth reflected in the [solar report] indicates the economic benefits … as we reduce our carbon emissions.”
Gregg Mast, executive director of business-led Clean Energy Economy Minnesota, said in response to the updated solar report: “Over the past five years, solar jobs in the state have grown over 117% and we have four times more Minnesotans working in the industry today than a decade ago.”
Minnesota gets about 25% of its power from renewables, including wind and hydro. Proponents push a goal of 50% by 2030, as the cost of wind and solar decline annually, and those industries scale up. A related study released last year by Clean Energy found that the renewable-energy industry grew jobs 2.5 times faster than overall Minnesota job growth between 2018 and 2019.
Solar jobs pay more than similar industries and above the national median wage of $18.58 for all occupations, according to the study.