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Oregon’s Solar Workforce Grew 42.8% in Past Year

Baldock Solar Station, south of Wilsonville off I-5, opened in January 2012. Photo by Pete Danko.

Baldock Solar Station, south of Wilsonville off I-5, opened in January 2012. Photo by Pete Danko.

Oregon’s solar power industry revved up in 2015, with employment growing by 42.8 percent to 2,999 workers as of November, according to a new report from the research group The Solar Foundation.

The gain of 899 workers put Oregon 16th in the nation in solar jobs, 13th on a per capita basis. The Solar Foundation said growth is unlikely to be as robust in the current year, but the solar workforce should still increase by 14.9 percent, or nearly 450 jobs, in line with a national forecast of 14.7 percent growth.

One reason for Oregon’s strong growth, as highlighted in the report: “Oregon added more than 19 megawatts (MW) of solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity in 2015 through Q3, which is twice the capacity installed in the state in the previous year (8.2 MW).”

But the solar industry in Oregon looks a little different than the national picture, which shows 57.4 percent of jobs in installation and 14.5 percent in manufacturing (those are the top two subsectors). In Oregon, the breakdown is a somewhat lower 50 percent in installation and a vastly higher 38.3 percent in manufacturing. That’s largely thanks to SolarWorld, the German company that has its U.S. headquarters and a big plant in Hillsboro, in Washington County. Big as it is, so goes SolarWorld, so goes Oregon solar, to an extent.

Washington County is home to the big SolarWorld manufacturing plant. Chart from http://solarstates.org/

Washington County is home to the big SolarWorld manufacturing plant. Chart from http://solarstates.org/

Employment at the plant reached 1,000 in late 2010, but then rapidly reversed course, heading below 700 as the company contracted in the face of an onslaught of cheap, heavily state-subsidized solar panels from China. SolarWorld fought back, winning trade sanctions for unfair practices by those Chinese competitors, which brought some relief, and the company announced in October 2014 that it would begin adding jobs again.

Spokesman Ben Santarris said 150 new workers have come aboard since then, and that when ongoing expansions are completed in the third quarter this year “we should reach employment of 900.”

Nationally, the Solar Foundation reported 208,859 workers as of November 2015, a 20.2 increase from November 2014. California leads the nation in solar jobs with 75,598.