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Report: Solar Job Growth Blazing Hot, but Bypassing West Virginia

PHOTO: According to an annual census of solar employment the number of jobs in the solar industry is growing at blazing pace, but a law repealing the alternative energy standard in West Virginia may leave the Mountain State choking on fumes. Photo credit: Nadine Y. Barclay/Wikipedia.
PHOTO: According to an annual census of solar employment the number of jobs in the solar industry is growing at blazing pace, but a law repealing the alternative energy standard in West Virginia may leave the Mountain State choking on fumes. Photo credit: Nadine Y. Barclay/Wikipedia.
March 3, 2015

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Job growth in the solar industry is blazing nationally, although it's pretty cold by comparison in West Virginia.

An annual census by The Solar Foundation found the number of jobs in the solar industry is up by nearly a quarter over the year before, and up nearly 90 percent since 2010.

Solar Foundation president and executive director Andrea Luecke says most of these jobs pay well, and says much of the new work is in sales and installation. As solar power becomes more competitive, Luecke says more people will want it installed.

"It's been phenomenal. Homeowners, commercial owners, even utilities," she says. "And as we have more solar installed on rooftops, on land, in parking lots and on top of landfills, we need people to do those installations."

But in West Virginia, Luecke says state energy policies have limited the growth of solar employment. A good example is House Bill 2201, now sitting on the desk of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin awaiting his signature or veto. According to solar supporters, the bill could limit the ability of homeowners and businesses who have installed solar power to get credit for any excess power they put back to the grid.

Luecke says "net metering" is a key policy for supporting the industry's growth, and adds one of the first bills passed by state lawmakers this year - repealing the alternative energy standard - could hurt solar expansion.

"West Virginia may see a real drop in employment in the wake of the state's repeal of the Alternative and Renewable Energy Portfolio Act," she says. "It's the first successful repeal of a state renewable portfolio standard."

Luecke notes one key factor driving the white-hot national job growth of solar is a steep drop in the cost of solar cells. She says this means solar-generated electricity is becoming increasingly price-competitive.

"What you're currently paying for conventional fossil fuels is about what you'll pay for solar in many states," she says.

Only about 300 West Virginians work in solar-related fields, while the census says there are nearly 175,000 people employed in the industry nationwide.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV