Sunny Colorado is losing ground in solar energy jobs

Colorado may be known for its abundant sunshine, but employment in the solar energy sector is looking cloudy — solar industry jobs have declined by 32 percent since 2010, according to a newly released survey by the Solar Foundation.

Colorado saw a zero percent increase in solar sector jobs from 2012-2013, while such jobs increased by nearly 20 percent nationwide. The high-profile bankruptcy of Abound Solar in 2012, which cost 400 jobs, could have something to do with those numbers, but solar advocacy organization Environment Colorado lays the blame on what could have potential longer-term effects on the market — possible changes to a utilities-rebate program run by Xcel Energy.

Called “net-metering,” the program pays people who have home-based solar systems 10.5 cents per kilowatt hour for the power they use, the estimated value of the energy Xcel saves by having the customers produce it themselves.

But last year, the utility said it’s been overpaying customers, based on the results of a new study it conducted. It wants to lower the rebate to 4.6 cents per kilowatt hour. Doing so requires the approval of the Public Utilities Commission, which hasn’t yet ruled on the request.

Environment Colorado said uncertainty about the outcome is what’s led to a curtailment of hiring by solar companies unsure whether the lower rebate will lessen demand.

“Rolling it back would have a serious impact on the ability of people to go solar,” spokeswoman Margaret McCall told The Daily Caller News Foundation, adding that it could be more than a year before the PUC decides on the issue.

“With that kind of uncertainty on this type of fundamental policy, that could be the tipping point for whether or not a person can decide whether it’s financially feasible to go solar or not,” she said. “When you have fewer people who feel like they can depend on one of these policies, you’ve got fewer people who are ready to go solar and fewer people who need to be employed.”