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Covid-19 impacts California’s solar industry with 15,000 jobs lost

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A new survey by the California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA) has shown that California solar and storage industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic forcing hundreds of local businesses to shed or furlough an estimated 15,000 clean energy jobs.

“Our local businesses are suffering greatly due to COVID-19. Unless immediate action is taken, the impacts could harm job growth and slow California’s transition to clean, resilient and reliable energy.”  

Bernadette Del Chiaro, executive director of CALSSA.

The new survey results have shown that 92% of solar and storage businesses are being negatively impacted. Businesses report laying off or furloughing 21% of their employees, indicating a loss of 15,600 solar and storage jobs statewide in the past month and a half. 

The single greatest cause of the struggles is a slowdown in sales activity and customer engagement, which is particularly problematic given that solar and storage work typically ramps up in the spring after the rains pass. There is some indication that customer activity is ready to rebound.

The second greatest challenge, however, came from local government and utility company slowdowns or barriers to solar and storage construction activity.  

Despite the impacts quantified in CALSSA’s survey, California’s solar and storage companies reported a pipeline of projects and a general sense of optimism in the future if steps are taken now to support the industry. 

“Local solar and energy storage projects are the most ‘shovel-ready’ investments the state can make to put people back to work and help grow our economy around clean energy. Our projects take anywhere from a few days to a few months to complete, can be done safely outdoors, and have the added value of making our communities more resilient to future disasters.” 

CALSSA recommended a list of actions government can take to help put the solar and storage industry back to work including:

  • California should set a goal of building a million solar-charged batteries. Similar to when California set a goal of building a million solar roofs, significant economic activity, job growth and consumer engagement would follow from the state’s direct engagement and the resulting policies designed to achieve the goal. 
  • California should ensure local building departments have the resources they need to adopt online permitting portals and no-touch inspection practices. Many local governments have made great strides in online permitting to protect public health during the COVID-19 crisis. They can solidify this approach and expand on it by adopting the National Renewable Energy Lab’s SolarAPP, an advanced system that creates government efficiency in permitting.
  • California should undertake a massive investment in clean energy infrastructure to boost the economy while making advancements to decarbonize our energy system and provide greater community-level resiliency. This could be funded through a combination of bond financing, tax credits, and program outlays. 
  • Congress should provide direct payments of tax credits for the next 18 months and extend the safe harbor provisions and commence construction deadlines at credit levels currently in place for clean energy projects. These measures will keep projects moving and ensure companies do not lose a productive year as credits decline.
  • California should protect solar and storage investments from unnecessary taxes at the local level. 
Anela Dokso

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