Special to the BDN by Holly Noyes (link)
Maine has an opportunity to provide well-paying, long-term careers to the next generation, so long as policymakers embrace solar energy policy this session. Maine’s solar workforce grew by 73 percent from 2015 to 2016, making Maine one of the top 10 states nationwide in per capita solar job growth. If policymakers support this growth by reinstating solar net metering this legislative session, more Mainers like me will be able to return home to find jobs in the burgeoning solar industry.
Solar’s potential is promising for Maine’s economic future, especially for a state that has lost jobs due to globalization and outsourcing. The closure of many of Maine’s paper mills provides a good example of how industry changes have hit longtime Mainers hardest. Innovations in solar can employ the next generation of Mainers.
Maine is challenged by high energy costs and retaining young workers. I have firsthand experience with both challenges. I grew up on a dairy farm in Albion that my family started in the 1940s, where we still ship milk today. I left Maine after graduating from Bates College in 2010 to gain broader work experience and pay off my student loans. I always knew that I wanted to get back to Maine, but I couldn’t until I found a good job with a solar company.
I know that I’m just one of 572 other solar workers here in the state who all have unique stories on how we transitioned into this growing industry. Maine’s solar jobs cannot be exported. The jobs provide opportunities for young Mainers like me and those looking to transition into the economy of the future.
Right now, policymakers have a choice when it comes to supporting smart solar energy policy, and they shouldn’t be afraid of a veto threat. There are several solar bills aimed at expanding residential, community and commercial solar, any of which work well in Maine and create jobs.
If good solar policy is enacted, it can further spur local job growth for rural areas where jobs are needed not only through direct solar employment, but also by providing Maine companies an opportunity to invest in lowering their energy costs to improve their competitiveness over time. Supporting policy that expands solar energy access for Maine businesses and farms will create predictable and manageable energy costs, so businesses can grow and hire more people.
On a national scale, one in 50 new jobs added to the U.S. economy in 2016 was created by the solar industry. Clean technology jobs are the future for our country. Maine has an opportunity to catch up by adopting pro-solar policy this session.
Further, the United States is on a path to replace an estimated 70 percent of grid infrastructure that is nearing the end of its useful life. Utilities are spending billions of dollars to add capacity to our grid, while our actual electricity demand is flat. A distributed generation model is one of the best opportunities we have to create a lower cost and more reliable modern infrastructure and bypass these expenditures.
I encourage the Legislature to support solar policies that expand job opportunities for the next generation of Mainers and reflect the economy of tomorrow.
Holly Noyes is the public relations manager at ReVision Energy. She lives in Palermo.