SALT LAKE CITY — A new report shows Utah's solar industry was sizzling hot last year, adding jobs at more than twice the national rate — growing 65 percent from 2015 to 2016.
Nationwide, 1 in every 50 jobs created last year came from the solar industry and represented 2 percent of the new jobs added, the census report from the Solar Foundation found. The census showed that 260,077 people work in the solar industry nationwide, up 24.5 percent in a year's time.
In 2015, Utah had 2,679 solar-related jobs. That grew to 4,408 the next year, propelling Utah to No. 14 in the country for solar jobs. It ranks seventh in solar jobs per capita.
Matt Pacenza, executive director of the advocacy organization HEAL Utah, said the solar industry plays a key role in the state's economy.
"Our amazing growth in rooftop solar is not just helping Utah's families do their part for clean air and clean energy, but it's becoming a major economic driver," he said. "It goes to show that economic growth and environmental well-being can go hand in hand."
The growth comes at a time when Utah is at a policy crossroads when it comes to how rooftop solar is treated in the state.
A proposal by Rocky Mountain Power to add new fees for new rooftop solar customers is up for consideration this summer as the regulated utility seeks to capture what it says are costs unfairly shifted to other customers.
In addition, a legislative measure by Rep. Jeremy Peterson, R-Ogden, seeks to reduce the state tax credit of $2,000 by increments of $400 each year after 2017. The impetus for HB23 comes as the popularity of rooftop solar soars, taking a bite out of money in the general fund used for education.
An analysis in preparation of introducing the measure showed that money for schools is projected to take a $60 million hit in a few years time as more and more people begin to transition to rooftop solar.
The fiscal note on Peterson's bill estimates that reducing the credit by $400 in fiscal year 2019 will bump education revenues by just over $2 million, and by 2020 those will increase by nearly $5.4 million. The tax credit is phased out by 2021 as costs for rooftop solar systems come down.
The report notes that the growth in new electric generating capacity came from utility-scale solar development, comprising 70 percent of all new installed capacity in 2016.