Voices: Jobs and clean energy; now is not the time to end federal investment in solar

Orion Thornton

Of all the federal government programs struggling out there, there’s one that’s actually working – the federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for renewable energy systems. 

The ITC is a federal incentive for homeowners, businesses, farmers and ranchers that is reducing the cost of going solar and helping increase the amount of clean energy installed around the country. It has been one of the most successful incentive programs to date.

Now, it’s poised to start shutting down. Go figure.

Solar power has proven to be a job-creating engine and economic driver for communities, and an effective response to the climate crisis. That’s why Congress offered support for homeowners and businesses to do the right thing while actually saving money in the process. And it’s working.

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), there are 250,000 Americans with careers in the solar energy industry, despite it being a relatively new sector of our economy. This is more than double the number of workers just a decade ago.

These are good jobs with solid pay and benefits, in positions that can’t be sent offshore because they’re building clean energy projects in our communities across America. And these are jobs for all kinds of people: marketing, sales, design, customer service, warehouse, construction, accounting, IT and HR.

I know because I am a co-owner of OnSite Energy, a solar PV design and installation business with locations in Missoula and Bozeman and 12 full time employees. There are more than 250 individuals in Montana and growing who owe their jobs to this important energy sector, and last thing we need are any barriers to employment development and growth.

Beyond the growth in this job market, the solar industry is empowering our customers. Whether it’s a farmer or a rancher in a rural community, a small business, homeowner or school – over 3,000 folks have gone solar here in Montana, taking energy resiliency into their own hands.

Like I said, it’s working. A big driver of this American success story is the federal support. Our government has a long history of supporting industries deemed to be economically vital, including the auto industry and, of course, coal, oil and gas.

Incentives for carbon-based fuels roll along year after year. And yet, federal support for clean energy begins sunsetting on Jan. 1 and ends entirely for homeowners in 2022. Odd.

The ITC is scheduled to start decreasing and eventually go away. But right now, there is momentum growing in Congress to extend the incentive. This policy has helped solar energy become one of America’s fastest growing industries – providing good jobs and strengthening communities as strong action against climate change.

Now is the time to put our foot on the gas pedal, not on the brake. Congress will be in a late-year frenzy to pass a bill to fund next year’s government. Here’s hoping they continue a policy that’s actually working.