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How Solar Can Build Back Better

06.17.21

Original article: https://morningconsult.com/opi...

Op-Ed by George Hershman, President of Swinerton Renewable Energy

Resilient infrastructure is key to making America’s economy the most robust and competitive in the world. That is why I am pleased that President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion American Jobs Plan makes historic investments in infrastructure by supporting clean and affordable renewable energy and creating thousands of high-paying jobs. Although some in Washington may view the plan through a partisan lens, I believe it represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to strengthen America and position our great country for long-term success.

I was employee No. 1 at Swinerton Renewable Energy, or SRE, back in 2008. Just a little over a decade later, I am proud to say that our team has grown to over 800 employees and is at the forefront of the renewable energy transformation. We design and build utility-scale solar power plants that supply reliable renewable power to homes, businesses and schools across the country, one project at a time. Our business is committed to building strong communities by providing sustainable energy, economic investment and high-quality, well-paid jobs across rural America.

With the ultimate goal of decarbonizing our electricity generation by 2035 and putting Americans to work across the United States, the solar industry is going to need to triple its workforce in the next decade, adding to the 231,000 people already employed across the country. Jobs are available at every level of the value chain, from pile-driver operators, electricians and operations and maintenance crews to engineers, software developers and project managers. I’m also proud to say that the solar industry pays higher wages than many other comparable industries in cities and small towns all over the United States.

Biden’s plan reflects that same commitment to strengthening communities and job creation by supporting renewable energy solutions that impact both supply and demand. His plan would extend solar and renewable tax credits for 10 years and make those credits refundable. The 10-year lifespan increase for solar tax credits is critical for growth and provides stability financiers need to invest. The most recent two-year renewable income tax credit extension boosted solar installations by 17 percent, according to one study.

Other commitments, such as $100 billion in funding for updating electric grids, mandating a portion of U.S. electricity come from renewable sources and investments in new transmission lines would, together, increase the supply of clean and reliable renewable energy for consumers.

This historic investment comes at a momentous time for the solar industry. According to a study commissioned by the Solar Energy Industries Association, an organization I help lead as board chairman, the solar industry grew 43 percent in 2020, installing a record 19.2 gigawatts of grid capacity. Solar leads all technologies, including renewable and nonrenewable sources, in terms of new electric-generating capacity installations. By 2030, solar production is predicted to expand 400 percent.

The solar industry’s growth has been tremendous, but without the kinds of policies proposed in the American Jobs Plan, it is still not enough to reach the president’s climate targets, or the Department of Energy’s goal to cut solar costs 60 percent by 2030.

SRE was formed in 2008 as a way to help carry the general construction side of our business through the Great Recession and keep our employee-owners on the job. Our expansion into renewable energy was in anticipation of rapid growth in the solar photovoltaic market following the federal investment tax credit extension. Just over a decade later, we are the largest solar contractor in the United States, with over 6,700 megawatts of solar electric capacity built in 25 states by thousands of American solar workers.

Together, with the support of government, industry stakeholders and hundreds of thousands of solar workers, we can create a clean energy legacy that drives our economy forward, strengthens our communities and protects our environment for decades to come.

Let’s get to work.

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