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Indiana added 960 solar power jobs in ’13, group says

– Indiana’s solar power industry added nearly 1,000 jobs last year, an employment surge that boosted the industry’s Hoosier workforce by 178 percent, according to a report released Tuesday by a solar advocacy group.

The Solar Foundation said Indiana saw 960 new solar industry jobs last year, up from 540 such jobs in 2012. The Washington, D.C.-based group’s annual report summarizing solar energy jobs in each of the 50 states, ranking Indiana 25th in solar employment, up two spots from its previous report.

The state’s 1,500 solar jobs, largely in manufacturing and installation, still lagged behind adjacent Ohio, which ranked eighth nationally with 3,800 jobs. Adjacent Illinois and Michigan last year had 2,100 and 2,700 solar jobs, respectively, the report said.

The report said that nationwide, the U.S. solar industry employed more than 142,000 Americans in 2013, with a third of those jobs in longtime solar leader California.

Indiana’s figures showed that last year, it had 50 solar industry companies and more than 400 homes powered by the sun – either with electricity-generating solar panels or solar-thermal units used to heat air and water.

Many of Indiana’s solar workers were people hired to install solar power systems, such as crews who last year finished installing 44,000 solar photovoltaic panels on 75 acres at Indianapolis International Airport. That solar farm generates more than 12 megawatts of power that’s being sold to Indianapolis Power & Light Co.

Indiana also has attracted solar component manufacturers, such as Fronius, which operates a plant in Portage that employs about 70 people. The plant makes inverters, which convert solar power into electrical current, and expects to see steady job growth in the years ahead, company spokeswoman Tiffany Bley said.

Laura Ann Arnold, president of renewable energy promoter Indiana Distributed Energy Alliance, said Indiana’s strong manufacturing base makes it ideal for such businesses.

“Whether or not all the solar gets used in Indiana, the fact is we’re still a good location for solar manufacturing because we’re a good manufacturing state and we’re centrally located,” she said.

Jodi Perras, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign in Indiana, said the new report shows that “solar is on the rise in Indiana” even if the state has work to do to boost its renewable-energy sector.

“We should capitalize off of this momentum by finding ways to support this growing industry and make Indiana a leader in clean, renewable energy,” she said.