What would you do, if the job that you had was gone in an instant? Without savings or a safety net, and with no degree or technical job training, it can be hard to bounce back.
That’s what happened to my colleague, Steven Vernon. He lost everything after the recession. But he pulled himself back up with the help of his friends and community.
He enrolled in a solar installation job training program in the District of Columbia, Solar Works DC, led by GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic, the Department of Employment Services, and the Department of Energy and Environment.
He now works full-time as part of our solar installation team and has been active in advocating for better solar policy in his old stomping grounds, and my home state, Maryland. Earlier this month he testified before Maryland’s General Assembly in support of the Clean Energy Jobs Act.
Maryland, once a leader in solar opportunities, needs to catch back up. Last month, the Solar Foundation reported that in 2018 there was a loss of 800 solar jobs in Maryland, the largest drop in the country. It’s time to get things back on track and policy like CEJA is needed immediately.
If passed, CEJA’s 50 percent renewable portfolio standard (RPS) would create an estimated 20,000 new Maryland jobs through 2028. Additionally, good clean energy policy attracts investment dollars as more large corporations such as Facebook, Apple, Microsoft, and Google are committing to using 100 percent renewable energy. Opportunities like these would benefit communities like mine in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, which are struggling to retain a younger workforce.
When GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic started in 2014, Maryland’s Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) market helped us and our community partners to install solar energy systems at no up-front cost on ten homes in the CARE Community of East Baltimore and on thirty-one homes in the Morgan Community Mile in Northeast Baltimore, while also providing training in the solar industry to local residents.
Since the state’s SREC markets fell in 2016, however, Maryland has not been a viable market for us to continue our workforce development programs and solar projects for low-income clients. Maryland’s lower SREC prices leave a larger gap for GRID Mid-Atlantic to fill with philanthropy or other sources. CEJA would solve the SREC market problem.
We urge the Maryland General Assembly to pass CEJA this year because we don’t want to be shut out of Maryland for another year and make potential job trainees in the state also wait indefinitely for those opportunities.
Additionally, if CEJA is delayed by even just a year, the state would lose about $250 million of the Federal Solar Investment Tax Credit, which begins phasing out in 2020.
Steven’s story is just one of many examples of strong solar policy creating well-paid career opportunities. A successful transition to clean energy will require a strong, skilled workforce and today’s solar economy is creating real opportunity for people experiencing employment barriers and individuals in economically disadvantaged communities.
The average wage for a mid-level solar installation position is higher than the national average, and companies report that a bachelor’s degree was required for only about 20 percent of new hires.
Creating pathways to good solar careers for young people in disadvantaged communities, for individuals impacted by the criminal justice system, and for those underrepresented in today’s solar industry will develop the workforce that Maryland companies need to grow while creating economic opportunity for all communities to thrive.
The future of solar is looking bright, but it’s going to take passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act this year and building on that with a deliberate focus on workforce development to realize the industry’s full potential in Maryland.
Chris Sewell is the Finance and Operations Director at GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic. He lives in Annapolis.