Illinois lost about 300 jobs in the solar industry last year, according to the annual "National Solar Jobs Census" released by the Solar Foundation.
Solar energy jobs took a hit last year in Illinois, according to the latest annual report from the Solar Foundation.
The state's national ranking for solar industry employment fell from 12th to 14th place over the past year.
Illinois, home to 274 solar companies, accounted for over 3,400 solar jobs in 2015, representing a decrease of about 300 positions from one year earlier. As Illinois lost solar jobs in 2015, solar-related employment increased 20 percent nationwide, bringing the total number of positions to more than 208,800. Looking ahead, employment in the nation's solar industry is expected to grow nearly 15 percent in 2016, increasing by an estimated 30,000 jobs.
In the Solar Foundation's 2015 report, California retained the No. 1 state ranking for total solar employment. Massachusetts, Nevada, New York and New Jersey rounded off the top five states. Michigan and Ohio are among nearby states that saw positive solar-employment growth last year, adding about 700 and 500 jobs, respectively. Overall, 32 states plus Washington, D.C. added solar jobs over the past year, the report showed.
The Solar Foundation has published its "National Solar Jobs Census" annually since 2010.
"The solar industry has once again proven to be a powerful engine of economic growth and job creation," the Solar Foundation's President and Executive Director Andrea Luecke said in a statement. "Employment in solar has grown an extraordinary 123 percent since 2010, adding approximately 115,000 well-paying jobs. Our Census findings show that one out of every 83 new jobs created in the U.S. over the last 12 months was in the solar industry - 1.2 percent of all new jobs."
Renewable energy and environmental advocates in Illinois argue that the state's "broken energy policies," including its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), have stifled solar employment growth. Approved in 2007, RPS is an Illinois regulation requiring the state to get at least 25 percent of its electricity from naturally renewable sources by 2025.
Lesley McCain, executive director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association, weighed in on the new solar jobs report.
"Make no mistake: the solar industry in Illinois has shown tremendous growth over the past several years, with more than 3,400 workers across the state, who are helping consumers save big money," she said in a statement. "But to continue this success and compete with other states, Illinois needs to update its policy, beginning with a working RPS."
McCain is a supporter of the proposed Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, which would restructure the RPS.
The Illinois Clean Jobs Bill, proposed last year by state Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) and state Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-North Brook) in their respective chambers, is designed to strengthen statewide standards around energy efficiency and renewable energy. Under the proposal, the state's 2025 energy efficiency target would increase. Specifically, the reduction target for electricity consumption in Illinois would be bumped up to 20 percent from the current goal of 13 percent by the year 2025.
At the same time, the legislation would change the state's RPS to boost the share of power Illinois gets from naturally renewable sources, including solar and wind, to 35 percent by 2030.
Combined, these reforms would result in the annual creation of 32,000 new jobs in the state after their implementation, proponents say. The Citizens Utility Board estimates that the bill, if approved, would result in cumulative customer savings of $1.6 billion by 2030.
"Creating a working RPS like the one envisioned in the Illinois Clean Jobs Bill would give companies and investors the reliability that they need," McCain said. "The time to act is now, because the rest of the country isn't standing idly by. They are taking the initiative and building a clean energy economy while Illinois delays."