Solar energy and solar energy jobs in Eastern Washington continued to grow in 2016, according to new data from the Solar Foundation, with the potential to add much more. The percentage of jobs in the solar energy sector in Eastern Washington grew 26 percent in 2016.
“By increasing solar capacity here in Yakima and across Eastern Washington, we can reduce pollution, improve public health and build our regional economy,” said Sarah Lukins a campaign organizer with Environment Washington. “To realize these benefits, we need our local leaders to embrace a big vision for investing in solar both on rooftops and in open spaces. Eastern Washington has incredible solar potential and we should be harnessing it to power our state.”
Much of the solar job creation in 2016 was centered in cities like Yakima, Spokane and the Tri-Cities. Last year, Yakima County added 9 solar jobs, up from 34 jobs in 2015 and Spokane County grew by 21 jobs. These increases highlight the important role that cities can play to drive solar investment.
Across the country, cities are contributing significantly to our overall solar capacity. In fact, the top 20 cities listed in Shining Cities, a new report by the Environment Washington Research and Policy Center, have nearly as much solar today as the entire country had installed in 2010. More and more cities are making commitments to get a large percentage of their energy from the sun. Places like Milwaukie, OR and Rochester, MN have made commitments to triple solar installation by 2021 and to go 100% renewable by 2031 respectively. These cities demonstrate the sort of innovation that’s happening at the local level to create “homegrown” electricity.
According to the report, cities can move the ball forward on solar in a number of ways. Some successful initiatives have included placing a goal for solar expansion, helping residents finance solar power and retrofitting government buildings with solar.
But, it’s not only in cities - rural counties in Eastern Washington also employ over 120 workers in the solar economy.
“Cities are big energy users with lots of unutilized roof space suitable for solar panels,” concluded Lukins. “In Eastern Washington we also have tremendous potential to expand commercial solar on underutilized land, while providing a much needed second income to farmers and contributing to the overall resiliency and security of our electricity grid.”
Despite growth, challenges remain for the solar industry in Washington. The solar jobs bill - HB 1048, a bill that would extend Washington’s solar incentive program – has languished in the legislature for the past couple years. This program has helped 13,000 homeowners and businesses in Washington State to install solar as well as contributing to the creation of 3,700 solar jobs. The bill’s prospects this year are uncertain. Without extending this program, Eastern Washington risks losing out on future growth in the solar energy economy.
Environment Washington Research & Policy Center is a statewide environmental organization dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces.