Environment

A report card issued by an advocacy group says solar jobs in Kentucky are still relatively few, but are growing. The assessment by The Solar Foundation found that there were 1,202 jobs last year in the solar industry in Kentucky, which represents a 20 percent growth from 2015.

The Solar Foundation president Andrea Luecke said even though Kentucky isn’t exactly in the top 10 list of states for solar jobs (it’s 33rd), there’s a lot of potential for solar here. And there are correlations between these jobs in the industry and consumers’ demand for solar energy.

“Where you have a demand for solar installation, that’s where you’re going to have the jobs cropping up,” she said. “When you have a state that is growing in terms of jobs, that’s a good sign, it signals that there are some market drivers, that there is an appetite from consumers for more solar energy.”

In Kentucky, nearly a third of the state’s solar jobs are in Jefferson County (239 jobs) and Fayette County (108 jobs). But a number of other counties including Warren, Kenton, Pike, Daviess and Boone have at least two dozen people employed in the industry.

Luecke said the progress Louisville and Jefferson County are making in solar jobs is particularly notable. Last month, her foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy awarded the city gold designation in the SolSmart program. The award recognizes the city’s work in removing obstacles to solar energy development.

The Solar Foundation is a non-profit, and Luecke said it doesn’t advocate for any particular policy. But she said bills like the one that was briefly considered by the Kentucky General Assembly this year, which solar advocates said would have decreased demand for solar energy, could also have had an effect on the industry’s growth.

“Solar represent only less than one percent of our overall electricity generation, and it is very susceptible to policy,” Luecke said. “And where there’s uncertainty, you’ll see a contraction in terms of installation demand and then of course the jobs that go with it. So, what solar companies want more than anything is stability and certainty within the policy landscape.”

She said if Kentucky wants a realistic state to compare itself to in terms of solar growth, the state might look west to Missouri. Last year, the solar industry there grew 78 times faster than the overall Missouri economy, and there are nearly 1,900 people employed in solar there.

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL. She is also Enterprise Editor.