Opinion: Solar power is ready for its moment in sun, but we need help from Congress – The San Diego Union-Tribune
Hershman is president of SOLV Energy, formerly Swinerton Renewable Energy. He lives in Coronado.
When it comes to ingenuity, California businesses are second to none. Despite the challenges that companies in the state have faced over the past year, many have persevered by making smart investments for the future. Right now, Congress has an opportunity to double down on forward-thinking policies that will transform our economy for the next generation as it considers historic infrastructure investments. The private sector has acted to stay ahead of the curve, and it’s time for our government to do the same.
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In 2008, the 130-year-old construction company where I worked expanded into renewable energy to weather the financial crisis. We formed SOLV Energy, formerly Swinerton Renewable Energy, with the goal of temporarily repositioning our workforce so we could keep people on the payroll during the economic downturn. Thirteen years later, I serve as CEO of the since-rebranded company, and our team has grown to more than 800 full-time and thousands of part-time employees.
In that time, we’ve seen the solar industry grow into a true success story here in California and across the country. When my company started, most installations were residential projects. Today, most new solar power generation deployed to our electric grid comes from larger utility-scale systems and power plants that power everything from grocery stores and government buildings to data centers for global technology companies and entire communities. As the volume of production increased, innovations multiplied and consumer costs plummeted. Storage technologies that were groundbreaking just a few years ago are now the norm, dramatically improving solar power’s resilience even when other forms of energy falter.
The transformation I’ve witnessed at my company is representative of what we’re seeing across the industry at large. The U.S. solar sector has expanded more than 10,000 percent since 2006. With installation costs declining more than 70 percent in the last decade, solar power is not only cost competitive with all other forms of energy generation, but in many regions, it’s the least expensive option. In California, solar energy accounts for 25 percent of the state’s electricity while prices have declined by 36 percent over the last five years. It’s also a job-creating engine that provides high-paying careers for all skill levels, including nearly 70,000 jobs in California.
President Joe Biden recognized the potential of the solar industry to be a leader in the effort towards building our renewable energy future. His ambitious clean energy goals to decarbonize electricity generation by 2035 will require the industry to quadruple its size to employ 900,000 Americans. The $1 trillion landmark bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate last month offers some support for renewable energy production and storage over the next five years. These provisions are a good start, but it’s not enough to continue the momentum of the industry and meet President Biden’s ambitious goals.
As our economy continues to reel from COVID-19 supply chain disruptions, businesses like mine need certainty more than ever. A long-term extension of the solar investment tax credit would help to provide some stability so that the solar industry can continue to grow. Substantial investments in our grid will ensure that renewable energy can be produced, collected and sent to where it is needed, when it is needed.
These investments won’t just help us deploy more solar energy — they would also help us create hundreds of thousands of jobs. There are more than 230,000 Americans working in the solar industry today. About two-thirds are technical jobs that do not require a college degree, and most earn higher wages than similar jobs in other industries. But to fully decarbonize our grid in the next 15 years, the solar workforce will need to vastly expand.
California’s solar job creators are ready for this kind of growth. As traditional energy plants have been decommissioned in recent years, the solar industry has been successfully training displaced oil and gas, coal and fracking workers. And since the COVID-19 outbreak, solar companies including mine have repositioned workers in the service industries hardest hit by the pandemic’s economic fallout.
Congress can act now to ensure that hundreds of thousands more Americans like them can build brighter careers. It’s time for our elected leaders to come together and invest in our renewable energy future.