Trump’s solar tariffs may impact solar jobs worldwide

solar installers on roofDonald Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on solar panels and washing machines on January 23  was roundly criticized on many grounds – most frequently, the impact on jobs in the solar industry, as stated in the  New York Times Editorial on January 23 ,“Mr. Trump’s Tariffs will not bring back manufacturing jobs”.   The Times supported their opinion with several articles, including  “Trump’s Solar Tariffs are clouding the industry’s future” (Jan. 23) , which states: “Far more workers are employed in areas that underpin the use of solar technology, such as making steel racks that angle the panels toward the sun. And the bulk of workers in the solar industry install and maintain the projects, a process that is labor-intensive and hard to automate.” The Solar Energy Industries Association in the U.S. response is here, and their Fact Sheet (Feb. 2)  explains the terms and impact of the decision. The Solar Foundation released its 8th annual Jobs Census on February 7, revealing the first-ever year of decline in the number of jobs, but still a census of over 250,000 workers.    For a thorough overview, see the Fact Checker article by the Washington Post,  “Trump says solar tariff will create ‘a lot of jobs.’ But it could wipe out many more” (Jan. 29).

Three Canadian solar companies immediately filed a suit against the tariffs in the U.S. Court of International Trade, arguing that they violate NAFTA. The EU, China, South Korea, and Taiwan have also filed complaints at the World Trade Organization.  For a deeper look at the possible implications for other countries, including Canada, consider the complexity of global trade:  From an excellent overview in  The Energy Mix: “Trump Solar Tariff may be opening salvo in trade war”: “Although China appeared to be Trump’s intended target, the tariff on solar cells and panels will mostly hit workers in other countries. Thanks to dispersed supply chains—and partly in response to previous U.S. tariffs—solar photovoltaic manufacturing is a global industry. Malaysia, South Korea, and Vietnam all hold a larger share of the U.S. market than China does directly. And all are entitled to seek remedies under various trade agreements.”   The Energy Mix item refers to “U.S. tariffs aimed at China and South Korea hit targets worldwide”    in the New York Times (Jan. 23), which adds:  “Suniva, one of the American solar companies that had sought the tariffs, filed for bankruptcy protection last year, citing the effects of Chinese imports. But the majority owner of Suniva is itself Chinese, and the company’s American bankruptcy trustee supported the trade litigation over the objections of the Chinese owners.” From Reuters,  “Why the US decision on solar panels could hit Europe and Asia hard”  states that Goldman Sachs estimated that the tariffs implied “a 3-7 percent cost increase for utility-scale and residential solar costs, respectively …. Two key exclusions with respect to technology and certain countries (Canada/Singapore, among others) were included as part of the (initial) recommendation.” Canadian Solar , founded in Canada but a multinational traded on NASDAQ,  is one the world’s biggest panel manufacturers.

For an overview of the current state of the U.S. renewable energy markets and labour force, including solar, see  In Demand: Clean Energy, Sustainability and the new American Workforce  (Jan. 2018) , co-authored by Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Meister Consultants Group.  Highlights:  there are  4 million clean energy jobs in the U.S., with wind and solar energy jobs outnumbering  coal and gas jobs in 30 states.  Quoting the IRENA Renewable Energy and Jobs Annual Review for 2017 ,  the In Demand report states that: “The solar industry grew 24.5 percent to employ 260,000 workers, adding jobs at nearly 17 times the rate of the overall economy in 2016.”  The coal industry employs 160,000 workers in the U.S.  In Demand  compiles statistics from the U.S. Department of Energy, International Energy Agency, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and many others, about current and projected clean energy markets and employment in the U.S.: renewable energy, energy efficiency, alternative vehicles, and energy storage and advanced grid sectors.

 

A just clean energy transition for New York state – proposals include protection of pension benefits for displaced workers

On November 13,  the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI) at the University of Massachusetts published a new study by authors Robert Pollin, Heidi Garrett-Peltier and Jeannette Wicks-Lim, all well-established experts on the job creation benefits of renewable energy.  Clean Energy Investments for New York State: An Economic Framework for Promoting Climate Stabilization and Expanding Good Job Opportunities    examines the benefits of large-scale investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency for New York State, and proposes a Just Transition policy framework to support such clean energy investments. Their analysis is based on an estimate of a 40 percent decline  in production activity and employment in fossil fuel industries in New York State as of 2030. They examine the labour market and present detailed statistics about the compensation and benefits, unionization, educational qualifications, gender and race of the small percentage (0.15 percent) of the total state workforce who worked in fossil fuel dependent industries in 2014.

In Chapter 8, they  propose a Just Transition program guaranteeing pensions and reemployment, as well as providing income, training and relocation support for workers. They also propose support for fossil-fuel dependent communities, primarily through channeling new clean energy investments to the affected communities.  The report cites the model of the Worker and Community Transition program that operated through the U.S. Department of Energy from 1994 – 2004.

Because of the level of detail in the report, (including information about the unfunded pension liabilities of the relevant companies), the authors are able to make very specific policy recommendations and also provide cost estimates. For example, they call on the State government to mandate full funding of pensions via state law, or through coordination with the federal Pen­sion Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), to the extent that companies could be prohibited from paying dividends or financing share buybacks,  or the state (in cooperation with PBGC) could place liens on company assets when pension funds are underfunded.

The report estimates a total cost of approximately $18 million per year to fund 100 percent compensation insurance for five years,  retraining for 2 years, and relocation support for workers. This is based on an average of  $270,000 – $300,000 per worker per year, for  the estimated  67 displaced workers likely to be eligible.

Interesting context for this report appears in an interview with Robert Pollin in the  Albany Times Union, “N.Y. must try harder to become a clean energy beacon.

Exceptional growth in clean energy jobs forecast for Europe and the U.S.

SolarPower Europe, together with consultants EY, published Solar PV Jobs & Value Added in Europe  in early November, concluding that Europe is poised for a solar jobs revival after several years of policy-driven uncertainty.  The report discusses the policy environment, including trade policies, makes job projections, and  estimates the socio-economic impact per segment of the value chain, for roof-mounted and ground-mounted solar.  The job creation forecast:  the  the PV sector workforce will grow from 81,000 full time jobs (FTE) in 2016 to over 174,000 FTE by 2021 (an increase of 145% in the next 5 years). As quoted in an article in PV Magazine, the President of the European solar industry association states that an additional 45,500 jobs could be created across Europe next year if the trade restrictions on modules and cells from Asia were to be removed. SolarPower Europe proposes an industrial competitiveness strategy for solar in Europe which aims to support 300,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2030. It has also released a Policy Declaration, Small is Beautiful which promotes the benefits of small scale, clean, locally owned distributed energy.

In the U.S., the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) released the 2017 Clean Energy Industry Report  on October 27, showing a 3.4% employment growth rate for clean energy between December 2015 to December 2016 (surpassing the economy as a whole). Growth is  projected  to double again to 7% by the end of 2017. At the end of 2016, clean energy jobs employed 146,000 New Yorkers, distributed as follows:  110,000 jobs in energy efficiency; 22,000 renewable electric power generation (12,000 of which are found in solar energy); 8,400 alternative transportation;  2,900 renewable fuels, and 1,400 in grid modernization and storage.   The report also discusses a labour market imbalance where demand exceeds supply of clean energy workers, with employers reporting  the most difficult positions to fill are engineers, installers or technicians, and sales representatives.

Finally from the U.S.,  an article by Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) economists, appeared in the October issue of Monthly Labor Review with a summary and analysis of  the detailed data of Employment Projections for the entire U.S. economy for 2016-26, released on October 24.  The article notes: “Healthcare and related occupations account for 17 of the 30 fastest growing occupations from 2016 to 2026.   …   “Of the 30 fastest growing occupations, 6 are involved in energy production. Employment for solar photovoltaic (PV) installers is expected to grow extremely fast (105.3 percent) as the expansion and adoption of solar panels and their installation create new jobs. However, because this is a relatively small occupation, with a 2016 employment level of 11,300, this growth will account for only about 11,900 new jobs over the next 10 years. Developments in wind energy generation have made this energy option increasingly competitive with traditional forms of power generation, such as coal and natural gas, and are expected to drive employment growth for wind turbine service technicians. Employment of these workers is projected to grow 96.1 percent. As with solar PV installers, this occupation is small, and its rapid growth will account for only about 5,500 new jobs.”  Surprisingly,  “Faster-than-average employment growth from 2016 to 2026 is projected for a number of oil and gas occupations, including roustabouts, service unit operators, rotary drill operators, and derrick operators. The oil price assumptions in the MA model are expected to cause employment growth in the oil and gas extraction industry, at an annual growth rate of 1.7 percent over the 2016–26 decade. ”

 

New York marks Superstorm Sandy 5-year Anniversary in a big way: Climate Jobs Summit, Clean Energy Jobs Report, and expansion of New York’s Green Bank

Hurricane Sandy Oct 29 2012

Hurricane Sandy Oct 29 2012 – photo from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

The Climate Jobs Now! Summit was  held on October 27, in partnership with the Office of New York Governor Cuomo, Climate Jobs NY , and the Workers Institute, ILR Cornell University.  The event was built around the theme, Reversing Inequality and Combatting Climate Change: A New Era for States and Regions, with participants and speakers from New York labour unions, government, and climate advocates. The Closing Panel, “Fulfilling the Promise of a Just Transition for All New Yorkers through Clean Energy and Community Resilience” included John Cartwright, President of the Toronto & York Region Labour Council.   Video of some presentations is available .

Also on October 27, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) released the 2017 Clean Energy Industry Report , which found that clean energy jobs employed 146,000 New Yorkers at the end of 2016, distributed as follows:  110,000 jobs in energy efficiency; 22,000 renewable electric power generation; 8,400 alternative transportation;  2,900 renewable fuels, and 1,400 in grid modernization and storage.  Employment growth in clean energy surpassed the economy as a whole, at  3.4% from December 2015 to December 2016, with projected growth to double again to 7% by the end of 2017.    The report also states that the demand exceeds the supply of clean energy workers, with employers reporting  the most difficult positions to fill are  engineers, installers or technicians, and sales representatives.   (In June, Governor Cuomo announced funding for  Workforce Development & Training Programs at campuses of the State University of New York).  

Finally on October 27, a press release  from the Governor’s office announced that the New York Green Bank is seeking to raise at least an additional $1 billion in private-sector funds to expand the availability of financing for clean energy projects. According to the press release, the Green Bank has had  strong interest “from third-party entities like pension funds and insurance companies seeking to use it as an investment vehicle for sustainable infrastructure projects”.  The additional capital  can be invested in projects across the U.S., and the Green Bank is prepared work with other states and NGO’s to establish their own Green Banks.

The future of wind energy in Alberta

wind-energy-alberta

From CanWEA website, showing the state of Alberta’s wind market as of 2017

The Province of Alberta is reinventing its energy supply with its Renewable Electricity Program, which targets 30% of the province’s electricity to come from renewable sources by 2030. To take stock of the province’s existing strengths, as well as gaps and opportunities related to that goal, the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA) commissioned the Delphi Group to study the existing resources, including workforce skills, to support the growth of the wind industry. The resulting report,  Alberta Wind Energy Supply Chain Study , concludes that if wind energy were to meet 90 per cent of the government’s commitment, it would result in an estimated $8.3 billion of investment in new wind energy projects in the province and almost 15,000 job years of employment by 2030.  Many of the skills and occupations required to develop wind projects – such as engineering, construction, operations and maintenance – are transferable from the oil and gas sector. CanWEA is urging the government to provide a long-term renewable energy procurement policy which would encourage investment .

The report is summarized by the Energy Mix, by the National Observer , and in a CanWEA press release.  CanWEA also provides current profiles of provincial wind markets – Alberta’s is here .  CanWEA’s annual conference was held in Montreal from October 3 to 5; the closing press release is here.

The National Observer story features the wind turbine technician program at Lethbridge Community College, and states that in January 2017, a third of the students who entered the College’s wind turbine technician program came from careers in the oil industry.