According to a new report published by a center at UC-Berkeley 15,000 new jobs have been created in California by the solar industry in the last five years. That’s three thousand new jobs a year for five years. What other industries are doing that? Those jobs were also created during the toughest economic period in American history since the Great Depression.

“In California, the construction jobs created by the utility-scale solar boom have been good jobs paying decent wages, providing good benefits, and creating upward-mobility career ladders for blue-collar construction workers,” says study author Peter Philips, a professor of economics at the University of Utah.

One might expect the California solar jobs to be low paying, but that is not the case at all. The report says the average salary for CA solar workers was $78,000 annually with benefits. That is a high wage increased in value by the benefits packages. The benefits associated with a salary of $78,000 are probably substantial; so the true income could be closer to $90,000.

About one-third of the 15,000 were construction jobs building utility-scale solar facilities in California. One might assume that they were all for adding rooftop solar PV systems to the roofs of homeowners or businesses, but this is not true. Solar power is not all on rooftops, and not all from early technology adopters or environmentalists. Utilities are conservative and if they are investing in solar power, its not out of having a particular ideology. They are choosing solar because of favorable economics and because they can see it is the future.

California is a leader in solar power and the most populous state in the country, with about 39 million residents. It also has abundant sunshine and a mostly progressive political climate, so the state legislature has been supportive of solar power. Of course, public policy is  important in determining how industries are supported – especially emerging ones.

Professor Philips also pointed out that without supportive state laws and programs for solar that solar workers are not well paid or offered benefits. This seems to be unfair because they work they are doing is important.

He recommended a number of things to continue supporting solar power workers in California:

  • Renewing the federal Investment Tax Credit at 30 percent after it expires December 2016;
  • Expanding California’s statewide renewable energy mandate
  • Protecting Assembly Bill 32, the state’s landmark climate change legislation
  • Promoting collective bargaining and joint labor-management  programs on energy projects.

We hear too often about how government-supported solar efforts are wasting tax dollars, but far too little about how many jobs have been created by solar industry, and how public policy can enhance this effect.