Georgia is leading in solar job growth; Tennessee is lagging behind

Dalton solar plant adds 500 jobs; TVA reduces payments for rooftop solar generation

Staff photo by Tim Barber/ The Q Cells solar plant is located in the Carbondale Industrial Park south of Dalton.

Georgia is finding its place in the sun, leading all states last year in the growth rate of solar jobs, according to the National Solar Jobs Census prepared by the Solar Foundation.

Georgia added a net 1,102 solar jobs during 2019, boosting the state's solar-related employment to 4,798 jobs.

The major additions in Georgia last year included the $150 million solar panel plant built in Dalton by the Koran-based Hanwha Q Cells. The new plant, which will employ 500 workers, is the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere with an annual module production capacity of 1.7 gigawatts - or as much peak power as the Hoover Dam every year.

"The 2020s are beginning with record installations, stellar job totals, and strong workforce diversification," said Scott Moskowitz, the director of market intelligence and public affairs for the Korean venture that built the new Dalton facility.. "Q Cells could not be prouder to be a leading U.S. solar manufacturer during these exciting times."

photo Staff photo by Tim Barber/ Charles Kim, center, CEO of Q Cells, raises his portion of the blue ribbon cut with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, left, and Jeffrey Kessler, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Enforcement and Compliance for the Trump Administration, Friday at the Q Cells Grand Opening in Dalton.

But while solar jobs grew nearly 30% last year in Georgia - and 2.3% nationwide - employment in the solar industry declined in 16 states, including Tennessee, the study shows.

"In 2019, Tennessee gained capacity but lost solar jobs, which likely reflects workers coming in from out of state," the Solar Foundation said.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE), which is among the clients suing the Tennessee Valley Authority over what it calls "anti solar rate changes," blames the Tennessee solar job losses on a shift in the approach to solar energy by TVA for the decline in solar jobs last year. Bryan Jacob, the solar program manager for SACE, said the grid access charge TVA added in 2019 and the reduced payments for solar-generated power paid to TVA customers after the Green Power Provider program was scrapped have hurt the residential solar industry.

"This completely undercuts the economic value proposition for residential and small business customers who might have otherwise been inclined to invest in solar on their own properties," said Jacob, who calls TVA "a sun blocker." "The utility has become increasingly hostile to solar."

Shining states

The top 10 states for solar jobs growth in 2019 compared with the previous year:1. Florida, added 1,843 jobs, or 17.8% growth2. Georgia, added 1,102 jobs, or 29.8%3. Utah, added 1,062 jobs, or 17.6%4. New York, added 1,011 jobs, or 10.6%5. Texas, added 649 jobs, or 6.7%Shaded from growth1. Wyoming, down 31 jobs, 16.2%2. Arizona, down 40 jobs, or 10.9%3. Tennessee, down 496 jobs, or 10.6%4. Idaho, down 45 jobs, or 8.1%5., Mississippi, down 293 jobs, or 7%Source: The Solar Foundation, National Solar Jobs Census 2019

Although TVA has cut what it pays for residential solar power, TVA is adding more utility-scale solar projects than any time in its history. The long-range power plan adopted by TVA directors last August calls for the federal utility to add as much as 14 gigawatts of solar generation by 2040, or more than 20 times the amount of solar generation now in the Valley.

"We are moving to contract large volumes of solar for our customers, whether it's for large business customers through the Green Invest program, or smaller businesses or residential customers who use our Renewable Energy Certificate programs to help offset their carbon footprint," said Doug Perry, TVA's vice president of commercial energy solutions. "Some people are skeptical, but it is the truth."

TVA President Jeff Lyash said large-scale solar projects are much more efficient than rooftop solar and as the cost of solar generation continues to go down, TVA plans to build or buy more solar power.

But Jacobs said TVA isn't keeping pace with utilities in North Carolina and Georgia and SACE wants more such projects sustained over time.

"TVA is in a unique position to avoid another boom and bust cycle," he said. "Now is the time to start awarding solar projects for 2023 and beyond."

Contact Dave Flessner at or at 423-757-6340.