Trump's Policies Are Costing 10K Jobs in America's Solar Power Industry, Says Study

A man views solar panels on a roof at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. Kimberly White/Reuters

President Donald Trump's policies toward the American solar industry are partly responsible for the loss of nearly 10,000 jobs last year, according to a new report.

The industry, which employs 250,271 workers—more than fossil fuel industries like coal and natural gas combined —lost 9,800 jobs in 2017, according to a census published Wednesday by the Solar Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for the solar industry.

Last month, the Trump administration set a 30 percent tariff on imported solar panels.

But jitters leading up to that decision contributed to a 3.8 percent decline in the number of jobs in the industry over the past year, the study found. The data were gathered from 5,930 solar energy industry players and other businesses that serve the sector.

The loss in the number of jobs was the first time the Solar Foundation has seen solar energy employment contract since it began tracking the numbers in 2010.

"Many in the industry reported that the tariffs would increase the cost of panels and suppress sales and employment, particularly in the demand-side sectors of the industry," which includes installation and sales, the study found. It also noted that the slowdown is partly due to the expiration of the federal investment tax credit, which allowed the industry to expand rapidly.

Trump's decision to slap tariffs on imports came after two solar manufacturers in the U.S. petitioned the U.S. International Trade Commission last April, arguing that cheap solar imports were hurting their manufacturing business.

"Although the Census survey was conducted while the trade case decision was still pending, most (71 percent) Census respondents reported that the case negatively impacted them in 2017," the survey found.

Related: Trump hurting solar power industry growth? Company puts job expansion on hold after tariff announcement

Many in the industry expect the tariffs to have long-term repercussions. One green-technology research company predicted last month that Trump's tariffs could lead to the loss of as many as 88,000 jobs connected to installing solar power equipment. The Solar Energy Industries Association predicts 23,000 jobs will be lost this year.

After the announcement of the tariffs last month, American solar energy company SunPower said it would put off a $20 million factory expansion because it relies on manufacturers in the Philippines and Mexico for components.

"It's not hypothetical. These were positions that we were recruiting for that we are going to stop," SunPower CEO Tom Werner told Reuters at the time.

The president has argued that there is a "war on coal" and that the industry has been penalized unfairly under previous administrations. Yet his own appointees ruled last month that subsidies the Trump administration has proposed for the coal and nuclear power industries would unfairly interfere in energy markets.

Since 2010, employment in the solar industry has grown 168 percent, jumping from just 93,000 jobs across the U.S. to 374,000 in 2015-16. Combined, traditional fossil fuel industries employ 187,117.

Of those solar jobs, the recent study found, about 78 percent are in installation, sales and project development, with 15 percent in manufacturing.