OPINION: Solar Industry Can Help Wyoming Economy

OPINION: Solar Industry Can Help Wyoming Economy

Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport Director Devon Brubaker



The following opinion was written and submitted by Devon Brubaker, A.A.E., Airport Director, Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport

Our state’s economy is facing hard times—that’s no secret to anyone. It seems that we face a budget shortfall every year, and never really figure out how to dig ourselves out of it. Many of our communities are struggling with lost jobs, and we risk losing even more of our young people as they travel out-of-state for better opportunities. 

We can’t fix this situation with a one-size-fits-all solution. There is no quick fix that will make up the state’s revenue deficit or replace all the lost jobs. If there were, we would have found it by now. The true solution is going to be made up of many small ones—smaller industries that hire a few people and are dispersed around the state. Each one by itself can’t fix a community’s woes, but each one matters, and together they can do something great. 

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The fastest growing job in the US is solar installer, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. There are over 242,000 people working in the US solar industry right now, but less than 200 in Wyoming. We rank 43rd in solar jobs in the nation, but we have tremendous solar potential. In fact, depending on the study, our solar energy generation potential is between the 8th and 11th best in the nation. Simply put, we have a lot of sun here, and we aren’t taking advantage of it. 

Two years ago, there were only about eight solar installers in the whole state; now there at least 12. How many other industries can say that? And nationally, the solar industry is expected to grow 17.5% from 2018 (SEIA, 2019). 

The problem is that these aren’t big, flashy businesses. They’re small, often family-owned businesses that employ a handful of folks. There is no hoopla, no fancy ribbon-cuttings when a solar installer opens their doors. They just go to work, capturing the rays that are going to shine on Wyoming anyway. 

If we can start creating more solar jobs, we may keep a few more of our young people. Solar is a young, growing industry that many people want to be part of. Let’s not force them to go elsewhere; let them work here. Encourage them to open their own installation businesses. 

Solar panels located at the Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport.

Lately solar energy has been a hot topic at the Joint Corporations Committee meetings, and we are coming dangerously close to going backwards on our state policies. Stifling the solar industry in Wyoming is actually hurting small businesses in our towns.

Plus, there are companies who have renewable energy mandates, so they won’t locate in a state where they can’t fulfill those requirements. Losing out on those companies further harms our attempts at economic diversification.

If we really mean to diversify our economy, we need to think of it as a puzzle, and the solar industry is a piece. All of these independent installers are pieces. We need to start putting it together and appreciating what each piece brings to the table. Solar businesses and jobs count just as much as our other small businesses and pulling the rug out from under them doesn’t make any economic sense. 

Devon Brubaker
A.A.E. Airport Director
Southwest Wyoming Regional Airport