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Solar job growth exploding in NM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — New Mexico’s solar job growth is on fire, with employment up 54 percent last year, according to a new report from the Washington, D.C.-based Solar Foundation.

As of December, 2,929 people worked in either installations, manufacturing, sales and distribution, project development and support positions, said Solar Foundation President and Executive Director Andrea Luecke. That’s up from 1,899 local jobs in 2015, making New Mexico the 23rd fastest-growing state for solar jobs nationwide and the eighth highest for industry employment per capita.

“The solar industry grew about 179 times faster than the overall state economy last year,” Luecke told the Journal.

The nonprofit publishes its Solar Jobs Census every year based on direct industry surveys. Data collection for this year’s report was financed largely by the U.S. Department of Energy as part of the DOE’s annual Energy and Employment Report, Luecke said.

Overall, 260,000 people worked directly in solar-related jobs nationwide as of December, up 25 percent from 2015. Industry sales reached $62 billion across the country.

Adding indirect impact, the industry supported more than 788,000 U.S. jobs in 2016, generating $154 billion in total economic activity, according to the report.

Installation of residential, commercial and utility-scale photovoltaic systems accounted for about 40 percent of the state’s solar jobs. Manufacturing followed with 29 percent, and sales and distribution with 14 percent.

Solar jobs are scattered statewide, but about 60 percent are in Albuquerque. Solar employment in the state’s largest city grew by 78 percent last year, providing 1,767 jobs as of December.

New Mexico’s solar workforce is also diverse.

“About 45 percent of New Mexico’s solar workers are women, which is unusual,” Luecke said. “Nationally, about 28 percent are women. And ethnic minorities make up about 51 percent of New Mexico’s solar workforce.”

The jobs census coincides with the latest Solar Energy Industry Association report on growth national growth in solar installations in 2016, released in early March. Last year, the industry installed nearly 14.8 gigawatts of residential, commercial and utility-scale solar capacity nationwide, according to the association. That’s a new industry record by far, doubling the 7.3 GW that was installed in 2015.

New Mexico companies report robust business, and optimism for a lot more growth this year. Albuquerque-based installation and wholesale firm Affordable Solar reached $55 million in revenue last year. It projects about $75 million this year.

“We have some large-scale projects slated to start this year, and we project about 60 percent growth in residential and commercial installations,” said CEO Ryan Centerwall. “We just hired a number of people, and we have 40 more positions open now.”

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