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Solar jobs in Arizona grew last year, but at slower than national rate

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the capacity of utility-scale solar projects built in Arizona in 2014. Ryan Edge of the Solar Electric Power Association said the four plants built in the state last year had a capacity of 82 megawatts. The story below has been revised to reflect the correct information. Clients who used this story are asked to use the correction that can be found here.

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WASHINGTON – Arizona added 612 solar jobs last year, a 7 percent increase and a reversal from the year before when the state saw a 13 percent drop in those positions, according to an annual report released Thursday.

But the gains were dampened by a steep drop in the number of development jobs on big solar projects in Arizona. That bumped the state from second to third in overall solar-industry jobs and kept its job growth rate in the sector at about a third of the national average of 21.8 percent.

The Solar Foundation’s state solar jobs census said Arizona’s 9,170 solar jobs in 2014 trailed only California, with 54,690 jobs, and Massachusetts, whose 9,400 jobs bumped Arizona out of second place.

The big gains in Arizona were in installation jobs, which accounted for more than half of the state’s total. They grew from 3,311 in 2013 to 4,831 in 2014, and that category of jobs is expected to continue to grow this year.

Those gains were able to offset the large decline in the number of solar project development jobs, which went from 1,874 to 492 last year, a 73.7 percent drop over the year.

That loss came as the state saw a significant drop in new utility scale projects – those of 5 megawatts or more – according to Ryan Edge, a research analyst at the Solar Electric Power Association.

In 2013, nine utility-scale projects were built in Arizona with a total generating capacity of about 500 megawatts of power, Edge said. The next year only four, totaling 82 megawatts, were built.

In its report, the Solar Foundation attributed the decrease in utility-scale projects and the jobs that come with them to a looming 2016 decrease in federal tax incentives for solar projects.

Those incentives can help offset the prices of solar power that the Arizona Governor’s Office of Energy Policy said in a 2013 report is “not yet at cost parity with traditional fuel sources.”

“Financing the construction and installation of solar projects will remain an issue,” that report said.

Arizona is third in the country – behind Texas and New Mexico – in “total solar potential,” according to the Solar Foundation report. Despite that potential, the solar job growth rate in Arizona was 14th among the 20 states with the largest number of solar jobs.

Northeast states are beginning to catch up to Arizona in solar occupational opportunities, with Massachusetts leading the pack with its surge into second place.