Solar company plans expansion of Pa. workforce

    In this undated photo provided by SolarCity

    In this undated photo provided by SolarCity

    The outlook is sunny for the oil and gas industry under the Trump administration, but the president-elect’s vision for the renewable sector is less clear.


    Still, many solar and wind companies are expanding operations and hoping the renewable industry’s momentum will continue.

    SolarCity has offices in Norristown, Lancaster and outside of Pittsburgh.

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    That’s 400 employers already at work across the state, says head of eastern operations Lee Keshishian.

    The company says it can’t be specific about the number of new jobs planned in the region’s latest expansion.

    “SolarCity is part of a publically traded company so can’t make forward looking statements. But they do have a number of new jobs listed and are actively hiring,” a representative of the company wrote in an email.

    California-based SolarCity is a subsidiary of Palo Alto electric car maker Tesla Motors

    “What we are doing is creating jobs that are here, that can’t be outsourced because they have to be installed at your local neighborhood level, with employees from your local neighborhood,” Keshishian said.

    Junior installers, electricians and field surveyors have joined the company and moved up quickly to manage hundreds of employees, he said.

    “Folks come, in many cases, with no solar experience because the industry hasn’t existed. We have two training centers on the East Coast we collectively call SolarCity University,” he said.

    The company trains workers to install solar panels and do the technical and safety checks required so homeowners can convert sunlight to electricity.

    SolarCity now offers loans to homeowners who want to buy an energy system outright — instead of leasing it.

    That change means individual customers can take advantage of the federal government’s investment tax credit that allows homeowners to deduct 30 percent of the cost of installing a solar energy system.

    That kind of “smart policy” has made solar energy more attractive and spurred growth in the sector, Keshishian said.

    Brandons Phillips, his wife and three children moved into a new home in York, Pennsylvania, about a year ago. When he was first researching and shopping around for a solar system, the financing wasn’t right for his family, Phillips said. He didn’t want to get a lease or take out a home-equity loan.

    But the family just bought a system from SolarCity and hope to have it installed by March.

    “They say the average cost is say $25,000 to $30,000, something around that figure” Phillips said. “Ours was a little bit more because we wanted to err on the side of having a system that was a little bit larger than our needs were.”  Phillips also bought a system with a backup battery, which increased the cost.

    “We weren’t necessarily thinking exclusively about the ‘green’ aspect of it, but that certainly appeals to us. We were just thinking long term with energy costs what they are, and with the rolling brownout that you see along the East and West coasts,” Phillips said.

    SolarCity sells primarily “grid-tied systems” that include energy-generating panels, but keep the house tethered to the local energy source.

    “Our bill is about $150 a month — that’s pretty good for a family our size,” Phillips said. “But with three kids, I’m constantly going around turning off lights in rooms that are not in use,” he said.

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