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Numbers game Just how big or small is solar industry? Nobody is sure

A study released in February showed New Jersey ranked third in the nation in solar jobs.

Then came a big announcement in March from an out-of-state company, pledging to add 200 jobs at three new offices in the state.

But if you think all this means the solar industry in the state is coming back strong, think again.

Says who? The industry itself.

“It’s safe to say that the vast majority of our members are shedding jobs,” said Lyle Rawlings, the co-founder of the Mid-Atlantic Solar Energy Industries Association and the CEO of Advanced Solar Products in Flemington.

It’s a far cry from the peak of New Jersey’s solar market about three years ago, after a rise that was so meteoric it earned praise as a national leader in green energy and one of the fastest-growing industries in the Garden State.

Rawlings said membership in his association is now in the 40s, down roughly 60 percent from about 125 companies during the best of times from 2008 to 2010.

How many jobs those companies have created is a tougher number to get.

Industry experts say it’s anyone’s guess, especially in a time when the market has crashed from oversupply and is now staggering back to stability. That’s in part because solar-related jobs are spread through ancillary industries such as roofing, electrical supply and professional services, and are difficult to track through surveys.

But Rawlings said that given the slowdown last year in new solar construction, “it would be incredible to think that” the job market was not contracting during that time. Developers only added around 200 megawatts of new solar capacity in New Jersey last year, down from more than 400 megawatts in 2012 as the market was overheating.

Still, some companies have declared their intentions to create jobs in New Jersey. In late March, Provo, Utah-based Vivint Solar said it was adding those 200 jobs at three new offices because it is looking to grow its residential solar business.

Joshua Burd

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