Op-Ed: Solar energy powers Iowa job market

Source: By Tim Dwight, The Gazette • Posted: Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The growing solar energy industry in Iowa is harnessing the state’s sun potential at an ever-increasing pace. A new study, “Clean Jobs Midwest,” from the Clean Energy Trust and Environmental Entrepreneurs, found that 30,418 Iowans work in the state’s clean energy sector, including more than 700 in the solar industry.

Job growth across clean energy sectors, including renewable energy generation, advanced grid, energy efficiency, clean fuels and advanced transportation, is occurring faster than the overall job growth in Iowa. Iowa’s wind and solar jobs grew by almost 15 percent from 2015 to 2016. As president of the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association, I have the privilege of watching these investments grow the Iowa economy.

It is important to note that renewable energy jobs play a role in the larger economic chain. The Clean Jobs report included a category for manufacturing, which accounts for 5,908 jobs in Iowa. That’s more than 19 percent of clean energy jobs in the state, underscoring that renewable energy is employing Iowans at all levels of the supply chain.

Throughout the Midwest, the clean energy economy is creating jobs approximately five times faster than the rest of the economy. These jobs are all-American, blue-collar jobs — seven out of every 10 clean energy jobs are in construction and manufacturing. As Iowa showcases, they are found across urban and rural areas, and many are with small businesses.

Technology has played a big role in the competitiveness of solar energy as average installed residential and commercial system prices steadily drop across the nation. Prices dropped by 70 percent since 2010, making solar a competitive option for Iowans.

Public policy plays an important role in renewable energy development, and Iowa has been on the forefront. We were the first state to implement a Renewable Portfolio Standard and have a long history of other visionary policies that spur economic development associated with renewable energy. More than $123 million has been invested in solar using the Iowa solar investment tax credit in the past four years. This is a remarkable return on investment for the state tax incentives of $16.4 million. This program supported solar investment in 97 counties through 2016, showcasing it’s a tax program that benefits the entire state.

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Eligibility for the state’s production tax credit, also known as 476C, is set to expire this year. We need to work with legislators to showcase the value of this important program for mid-sized renewable projects across the state. This program made projects such as the Cedar Falls Utilities Solar Garden and Farmers Electric Co-op solar investments possible, and this needed economic develop tool must continue for communities and small utilities to use. While Iowa ranks 16th nationally in sun potential, we rank 29th for installed solar capacity.

Whether it is the installation and management of solar energy systems or the manufacturing and supply chain jobs that go with it, renewable energy grows Iowa’s economy in a way that creates a healthier community. I urge leaders to continue to support policies that tap into this resource that grows our state economy.

Tim Dwight is president of the Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association