Slow growth in Michigan solar jobs still ‘a big success story’

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Solar power is growing in Michigan, according to a new report from a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that advocates for more solar-powered electricity.

John Freeman

Michigan supported 4,169 solar jobs in 2018, about a 1-percent uptick from 2017, according to a new report from the Solar Foundation. The nonprofit tracks the annual number of jobs supported by solar generation across the country.

While it may not seem like much, the increase is “a big success story in Michigan,” said John Freeman, executive director of the Great Lakes Renewable Energy Association.

“It is a slow growth, but you’re starting from scratch,” Freeman said. “We have seen solar and renewable energy grow fairly dramatically in Michigan, as well as around the country.”

A majority of Michigan’s solar-related jobs are in Oakland County, according to the report.

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Although the Mitten State is cloudy compared to sunny Florida, California and Arizona, Michigan still scored 18th in the nation for most solar power jobs.

California (1), Florida (2), Massachusetts (3), New York (4) and Texas (5) boasted the most solar jobs in the nation.

Maryland (16) and Pennsylvania (17) scored slightly higher than Michigan, while North Carolina (19) and Virginia (20) were just below.

Neighboring Ohio ranked seventh in the country, with nearly twice the number of solar jobs Michigan supports —  7,162, the report said.

The biggest reason why Michigan’s solar industry has grown slower than in some other states is because they incentivize renewable energy, Freeman said.

Solar panels in Meridian Township | Susan J. Demas

Experts say that solar power will become more attractive as the cost to produce renewable electricity goes down. At the same time, coal-powered electricity plants will become less viable due to dwindling reserves and more awareness of the negative health- and environmental impacts of burning coal.

DTE Energy has already invested in multiple solar projects in recent years, including the Lapeer Solar Park. The project was commissioned in 2017 and is the largest solar park east of the Mississippi River, with more than 200,000 panels, according to DTE.

Consumers Energy also maintains a number of solar gardens.

Advocates see more solar power and renewable energy, in general, as inevitable.

Frank Houston

“Absolutely, we think solar will continue to grow in Michigan,” said Frank Houston, a program manager for Bluegreen Alliance, which advocates for more renewable energy in Michigan.

“What will determine that is largely how we make sure there’s a level playing field for both individual … as well as the commercial sector,” Houston said. “Michigan remains a state that’s rich for more investment and expansion of renewables, and we definitely think solar is going to be a part of that going forward.”

Michael Gerstein
Michael Gerstein covers the governor’s office, criminal justice and the environment. Before that, he wrote about state government and politics for the Detroit News, the Associated Press and MIRS News and won a Society of Professional Journalism award for open government reporting. He studied philosophy at Michigan State University, where he wrote for both The State News and Capital News Service. He began his journalism career freelancing for The Sturgis Journal, his hometown paper.

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