Guest Commentary | State's solar potential just starting to show

Guest Commentary | State's solar potential just starting to show

By LESLEY McCAIN

Solar energy is a bright spot in Illinois' economy, rapidly creating jobs across the state. And we're just getting started.

Solar businesses, unlike those in many other industries, are rushing to Illinois to set up shop. These companies are attracted by falling equipment costs and a stable state policy that is making Illinois a leader in a nationwide wave of growth.

America's solar industry now employs more people than the coal, nuclear and wind industries combined, and the job of solar installer is the fastest growing in the country. In Illinois, solar's potential has just started to show, and if communities here support its growth, we can write a success story filled with good jobs and low-cost electricity for families throughout the state.

Companies moving to Illinois include Moxie Solar, which opened its Illinois headquarters and distribution center in Dixon and plans to hire 50 engineers, installers, salespeople and other professionals in the next few years. Eagle Point Solar is opening an office in Canton with a staff of six that's expected to grow to more than 20. SunRun is opening a Chicago office with plans to hire 80.

The list goes on. Borrego Solar, Cypress Creek Renewables and Solect Energy have all opened offices in the Chicago region in the past 18 months. And the large installations that many of these companies are developing will create a new surge of job growth once construction begins.

For example, Ranger Power is moving forward with a utility-scale project in southern Illinois' Perry County that will create 200 construction jobs and around five permanent jobs. The industry expects at least five additional projects of similar size to break ground in Illinois between now and 2020.

Solar companies that have long called Illinois home are also staffing up to meet demand. StraightUp Solar, with offices in Bloomington and Swansea, has grown from 30 to 49 employees since the beginning of 2017. Continental Electric Construction Co., based in Oak Brook, has hired 18 people to work on solar installations in the last six months. Continental's new hires include electricians, project managers and a system designer. The company expects to add an additional 30 to 40 electricians by the end of 2018. ReThink Electric, a solar installation company in Wood Dale, grew from five employees to 15 in the past year and expects to employ 30 by the end of next year.

The job growth began with the December 2016 passage of the Future Energy Jobs Act, which put Illinois on track to generate 25 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2025. Aerotek Energy, a recruitment agency focused on the utility and solar industries, has fielded dozens of inquiries from Illinois solar companies and placed more than 20 people with solar businesses here in the past year. Aerotek expects to place around 100 entry-level and mid-level workers in 2019 and is working with veterans' groups and community organizations to find qualified applicants.

We are proud to report that Illinois' renewable energy program is doing what it was intended to do, generating good jobs and low-cost, clean electricity. The industry is ramping up, and we're on-track to create thousands more solar jobs in the years ahead.

Lesley McCain is the executive director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association.

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