The New York solar industry is booming, and communities across the state are seeing the benefits. But a costly prevailing-wage provision set to be imposed by state lawmakers threatens New York’s jobs, economic growth and clean energy aspirations.
Solar energy now employs 10,000 workers across the state, including in areas where work opportunities are particularly scarce. These jobs are providing a livelihood for New Yorkers and helping the state battle climate change. And they are supporting the ambitious clean energy goals set by state leaders.
The wage proposal currently up for debate in the state Legislature threatens many solar jobs. The budgets proposed by the Assembly and Senate would institute a “prevailing wage” requirement on all distributed commercial and community solar projects that receive any government funds, requiring that workers be paid a union wage.
In an attempt to help workers, this proposal does just the opposite. It would have far-reaching consequences that even its proponents might not realize—namely, it would force companies to cut jobs and stall the tremendous progress New York has been making on clean energy.
Make no mistake: The solar industry supports well-paying jobs. Indeed, we are integral to creating them. But to keep doing that, solar companies must be able to keep building solar projects—and that’s only possible if projects remain economically viable.
The policy being considered would raise the cost of solar projects by 10% to 20% on average, according to a report commissioned by the New York Solar Energy Industries Association.
The increase for a typical small-business solar installation would be $18,750. For many firms, that is enough to go from a “yes” to a “no” when deciding whether to install solar. The prevailing-wage mandate would ensure that many projects in the state, including community solar installations, are no longer economically feasible.
The solar industry, with the support of the public, has worked hard over the past decade to drive down costs to a point where solar is not only financially appealing, but often the lowest-cost energy solution. It’s why New York now has enough solar installed to power more than 280,000 homes.
As those costs have come down, solar companies have flocked to the state. New York added 700 solar jobs last year alone, and now ranks fourth in the nation for solar jobs. The industry’s growth has created $4.6 billion worth of economic investment in our communities.
Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal to produce 100% carbon-free electricity by 2040 and the Climate and Community Protection Act, which aims for carbon-free emissions across the economy, require much more solar energy than is installed today, and at a faster pace.
Meeting those climate goals will create thousands more well-paying jobs. But given how many solar projects that this new prevailing-wage requirement would affect, these goals would be increasingly difficult to meet.
The answer is simple: Reject the wage provision. Rather than a sudden, wholesale shift, we should allow legislators, workers and companies time to discuss solutions that will create jobs and put the state on track to meet its clean-energy goals.
David Gahl is the senior director for state affairs, Northeast, of the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents dozens of companies based in New York, including solar installers, manufacturers, project developers, contractors and financiers.