One great thing about the renewable energy industry is how it pulls in people with all sorts of diverse backgrounds and education levels. Part of that is because of the breadth of opportunities on hand and part is because it's easier to feel good about your job when it's in the service of something so universally loved.
For Renewable Energy Companies, ITC Extension Means Ready, Aim, Hire!
Jamie Paquette | EnergeiaWorks
Last year had already been a banner year for our company and the solar industry in general when I first heard the whisper that the omnibus federal spending bill might actually address the extension of the Investment Tax Credit (ITC)* and Production Tax Credit (PTC) for renewable energy projects. And indeed, it was included in the final version of the bill that ended up being passed by significant margins in both the US House of Representatives and Senate on December 18.
Without getting bogged down in partisan politics, this was a huge victory for a renewable energy industry that enjoys broad support among Americans of all political persuasions (a Gallup poll in March 2015 found 79% of Americans wanting “more emphasis” on solar power with 70% saying the same about wind). These technologies have seen sometimes exponential growth rates in recent years but have simultaneously been threatened with sudden, calamitous retrenching with these Credits set to expire. The wind industry has already been hindered by lapsed incentives a few years ago that were only retroactively extended in 2014 and then lapsed again at the end of that year. Many companies saw project pipelines dry up and layoffs ensued for developers, manufacturers and construction companies who had built significant wind divisions.
Knowing what the landscape of incentives will look like over the next 5+ years offers valuable reassurance to business owners and shareholders who were wary of ramping up hiring for 2016 only to face the possibility of drastic cutbacks when the clock struck midnight and incentives expired on January 1st, 2017. We would have seen a lot more short-term contracts and 1099 situations, which can have their advantages but which are not situations that many employees desire. Instead, companies can plan for expansion and increased headcount as we start to see the pipeline of projects swell for 2017 and beyond. In addition, the extension obviates the need for speed in rushing to get projects booked and across the finish line by year end which should result in more sleep for sales and business development staff, fewer logjams with utilities and permitting authorities, and better quality control for both manufacturers and installers.
2016 was already poised to be our busiest year so far, and what we're seeing now is that any reticence companies may have had about adding headcount has greatly diminished. With the end of the year no longer marking the end of the ITC, we'll likely see the hiring push spread out more evenly throughout the year rather than being front-loaded but demand is already way up. When EnergeiaWorks started over 5 years ago, there were no other recruiting firms working exclusively in the renewable energy sector. Now, we see more and more other recruiters looking to push into these fields. Large, established recruiting firms are building out renewable energy divisions and labor-oriented staffing firms are moving into the business of providing installers and technicians for short-term assignments.
As a recruiter, I often find myself discussing the state of the renewable energy industry with candidates and clients. Candidates want to know if it's smart to make a move into or within the industry. Companies want to know what we're hearing from others in the industry. Even before the ITC extension, I was bullish on the long-term prospects of solar and renewables. Federal incentives have been important, but they are no longer the linchpin they have been with states making their own pushes to put more renewable energy on the grid, costs coming down precipitously, storage options improving, and utilities, businesses and homeowners alike seeking to lock in long-term energy prices to avoid the volatility and uncertainty of the market. The momentum has become so tangible and the forces behind it so varied that there has been no question in my mind that solar and wind are here to stay and will only increase their presence and viability. And that's before I've said even one word about climate change or other environmental issues that have traditionally been the altruistic selling points for renewable energy.
There are already many more people in the U.S. employed by the renewable energy industry than by the coal industry, even taking into account mining, electricity generation, etc., a trend that has been growing for years. And industries with room to grow and significant hiring needs are a positive force for continued economic recovery and development. Every state government would be well served to encourage renewable energy development within its borders in order to create jobs and stimulate the economy. Workers from old-line industries like coal can be offered training that could allow them to transition to new work with minimal economic hardship.
One great thing about the renewable energy industry is how it pulls in people with all sorts of diverse backgrounds and education levels. Part of that is because of the breadth of opportunities on hand and part is because it's easier to feel good about your job when it's in the service of something so universally loved. And for those who are motivated, the barriers to entry are low; anyone can get trained relatively quickly and at low cost to learn how to do design and analysis for residential solar projects, or become an installer no matter if you have a college degree. Additionally, more and more colleges are offering programs focused on renewable energy in some way and I'm seeing a big increase in resumes from recent grads who are specializing in this area. Meanwhile, those with advanced technological or business degrees find many companies eager to make use of their skills and experience.
Solar has room for large multi-national corporations and small businesses to thrive side-by-side. For every large company and utility investing more in solar projects and technologies, there's a startup looking to provide further technological breakthroughs that push the industry forward. For all the sturm und drang about Chinese manufacturers, panel dumping, etc. one of the great things about solar, wind and their relatives is that many of the jobs in these industries cannot be outsourced. PV arrays and wind farms require site visits for design and permitting purposes. The require engineers who know how the grid functions in the U.S. and are up to date on the National Electrical Code (NEC) as well as those who can handle the civil engineering scope of large solar and wind farms. They need financing from banks, both small and large. They need project managers and installation crews with foremen, electricians, and general construction laborers. They need testing and commissioning, and then they need people who can handle the ongoing operations and maintenance functions required for projects with multi-decade lifespans. And a lot of the manufacturing of products still takes place in the U.S. and will continue to do so as needs continue to grow (see, for instance, SolarCity's new panel factory being built in Buffalo with predicted annual capacity of 1GW that is already spurring additional development).
It's a great time for the industry and those of us that work in it. There are so many exciting projects and prospects - we are really starting to see an energy transformation here and around the world, and there's so much more room to grow. That goes for businesses and employees alike, and, as a recruiter, there's nothing more rewarding than putting people and companies in the right positions to succeed. And when the end product is something just about everyone can agree on, that makes it all the sweeter. Here's to a brighter and more powerful 2016!
*The ITC was first authorized in 2006 and allows for a tax credit of up to 30% of the cost of any solar project on residential or commercial property. For more on the ITC, take a look at SEIA's website.
Can EnergeiaWorks help you source the talent your company needs to thrive or help you find the career you want? Check out our website for current job listings and information on our services or send me a message.
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