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Solar industry says economic downturn could eliminate renewable energy jobs in SC

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The Solar Energy Industry Association is forecasting potential job losses in the renewable energy sector as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn. File/Provided

The solar industry expects to lose more than 1,000 jobs in South Carolina as companies battle sales, financing and supply chain problems amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The loss of renewable energy jobs in the Palmetto State is expected to coincide with even larger declines in solar industry employment nationally.

The Solar Energy Industry Association, based in Washington, D.C., released a new analysis this month. It forecast 114,000 fewer solar-related jobs in the United States as a result of the public health crisis and economic downturn, and it projected a 38 percent decline in employment in South Carolina.

The group believes the potential job losses this year could negate five years of industry growth. 

Some of the damage inflicted on rooftop and utility-scale solar developers is being caused by public health restrictions, delays in the supply chain for solar panels, and financial concerns among homeowners and businesses, according to the report. 

SEIA spoke with solar companies in South Carolina that are dealing with three- to six-month delays in shipments from suppliers. Other businesses reported solar projects being halted altogether.

Bret Sowers, chairman of the South Carolina Solar Business Alliance, said the overall downturn in the economy has made it much harder to find customers interested in solar installations. 

With hundreds of thousands of people filing for unemployment and large companies suffering drops in revenue, it's difficult to convince people to make an investment in solar energy right now, he said. 

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The average home solar installation can cost between $30,000 and $40,000, Sowers said, and a lot of people don't have that expendable income right now. 

"It's a long-term commitment and requires financing in many cases," he said. "It's like buying a car." 

The same is true for larger commercial and industrial projects, where companies pay to install solar panels on a factory, store or warehouse.

The uncertainty swirling through the American economy right now is dissuading many businesses from using their cash reserves or borrowing capacity to build a solar array. 

The end result could mean less solar energy installed in South Carolina throughout the rest of the year. 

And that, in turn, will likely mean less people working in sales, installation and permitting for the solar companies in South Carolina, Sowers said. 

Reach Andrew Brown at 843-708-1830 or follow him on Twitter @andy_ed_brown.

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