In front of more than 18,000 people at America’s biggest solar energy event, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) debuted a video profiling the personal stories of American manufacturing workers whose jobs are at risk due to a national trade case initiated by two foreign-owned firms.
The U.S. International Trade Commission will decide by Sept. 22 whether the U.S. government should intervene to support these two foreign-owned firms, a move that could leave many of these people without jobs and decimate one of America’s fastest-growing industries.
“The solar industry is an American success story, and the 38,000 American workers in the solar manufacturing sector are a huge part of that story,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO. “Two foreign-owned companies have put these American workers’ jobs at risk. It’s important that policymakers hear directly from the Americans whose livelihoods are at stake with this trade case.”
The U.S. solar industry today employs more than 260,000 Americans. Because many of these jobs — 67 percent — do not require a Bachelor’s Degree, the industry has become increasingly accessible to Americans of diverse backgrounds.
SEIA estimates that trade penalties would put one-third of those people, or 88,000 Americans, out of work in the first year. But as Schletter CEO Russell Schmit points out, the solar industry is supported by three to five times as many other workers in businesses that do not consider themselves part of the solar industry. More than 1 million workers would be impacted if the government provides trade assistance since that will raise the cost of solar and slash demand.
Last week, SEIA released a report profiling some of the 600 American solar manufacturing companies who are thriving in the marketplace. These American businesses employ more than 38,000 workers, many in rural towns across the country. They produce steel and polysilicon, inverters and trackers, cells and panels, and racking and mounting systems.
A sample of the companies profiled in the report and video include Attala Steel, a Mississippi-based company who employs 100 workers; RBI Solar, an Ohio-based company with 325 employees; Schletter, a manufacturer with 200 employees in North Carolina; Standard Solar, a Maryland-based company, and Swinerton Renewable Energy, with headquarters in California and locations throughout the U.S.
The steep decline in solar prices have helped these companies and the entire U.S. solar industry grow at a rapid pace. In fact, the industry grew 17 times faster than the rest of the economy last year, creating 1 out of every 50 new U.S. jobs — 51,000 in total. Trade penalties, however, would more than double the cost of solar, according to independent analysis from Bloomberg and IHS Markit, and upend the market.
“If the prices go up artificially because of these tariffs to protect two very small companies, then we’re going to lose business,” said Russell Schmit, president and CEO of North Carolina-based manufacturer Schletter, Inc. in the video. “We’re going to lose employees. And it could be half of our employees who end up being unemployed as a result of it.”
Mark Walters, a Sunrun worker in Maryland, explained in the video what his job means to him: “It’s really important to me because of my family. I have two kids at home who rely on this every single day from me. I grew up on it. It’s all I know.”
The U.S. solar market is forecast to triple in the next five years, bringing the total employment in solar to more than 300,000 workers. A GTM Research report in June said trade penalties would immediately halt this growth, cutting national demand for solar in half over the next five years.