Solar industry loses a numbers game in Texas

A research group's report claims more Lone Star State workers in the sector than ranchers, but it fails to mention all of those in oil and gas.

By Jason Notte Apr 23, 2013 8:49AM
Image: Solar panel (© Russell Illig/PhotoDisc/Getty Images)OK, folks, let's play Fun With Numbers: Texas Energy Industry Edition.

The Solar Foundation rolled out an interactive map of solar energy jobs by state, and it claims that the 3,200 solar jobs in Texas are greater than the number of ranchers left in the Lone Star State. The Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers from 2012, the most current available, show fewer than 2,500 farming and ranching jobs in Texas, so it must be true, right?

Well, the bureau told CNNMoney that its numbers are likely missing farmers and ranchers who are self-employed or mischaracterized. Also, as iconic as Texas ranching may be, there's similarly Texas-associated industry that could have provided a more apples-to-apples comparison had the Solar Foundation chosen to pick that fight -- gas and oil.

You don't just gloss over that industry when ExxonMobil (XOM), ConocoPhilips (COP), Marathon Oil (MRO) and Valero (VLO) call Texas home. You can't just pretend the industry doesn't exist when huge extraction companies like Halliburton (HAL) and Schlumberger (SLB) have their headquarters there. Solar energy proponents can hide their heads in Texas' oil-rich sands all they'd like, but energy companies and pipeline operators like El Paso (EPB), Dynegy (DYN) and Reliant Energy will just find a way to lop it off and turn it into profit.

According to the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, there are 243,900 derrick operators, drillers, roustabouts and other oil and gas industry workers in Texas alone. Just for some perspective, that's more than double the 119,000 people the solar industry employs in all states combined. That oil industry number is only growing, too, as active oil rigs grew 22% from 2011 to 2012 and has expanded 178% since 2009.

Listen, we understand why the Solar Foundation did this. You put out a quickie press release comparing solar employment to jobs people commonly associate with certain states -- California's 43,700 solar jobs outstrip its 32,300 acting gigs -- as an example of how much your industry has grown.

You tell folks about your 13% uptick in jobs and justify the $1 billion the government spent on them back in 2010 and argue that the most common job in your industry -- a solar panel installer -- earns $38,000 a year, or more than the country's $34,750 median wage.

That's fine. But when you draw comparisons in a state like Texas and avoid the big, crude-pumping industry that fuels a large portion of that state's economy, you're casting a shadow on your cause.

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Apr 23, 2013 9:19AM
Um, you're entirely missing the point of the report - making people aware of the significance of the growth of the solar industry. It's not their job to talk about how big oil is, everyone already knows that.
Apr 23, 2013 9:26AM
So what. The point is how Solar is growing even in Texas which is not very Solar friendly.  I would bet that Wind based energy jobs are doing pretty well in Texas as well.
Apr 23, 2013 11:35AM

Many, many ranchers in Texas are "gentlemen ranchers".  They own large parcels of land and run cattle on it as a HOBBY, not a PROFESSION, and as such, would not be included in these farming and ranching statistics.


It takes beaucoup bucks to manage this feat, and these gentlemen ranchers are very, very wealthy.  Ironically, most are oil and gas men, and I doubt any of them made their fortunes in "solar".  LOL.

Apr 24, 2013 1:06PM
This article completely misses the point.  Of course oil is bigger in TX than solar.  It's been driving our economy for a CENTURY.  And oil has received federal subsidies for a CENTURY!!  that's ok!  Energy drives our economy - it's good to incentivize.  But solar is growing faster than any other energy source, adding to and DIVERSIFYING our portfolio. If oil is this worried about solar to put out this thinly masked article, oil has its priorities backwards.  Go produce more and stop whining about a small industry providing jobs to Texans. 
Apr 23, 2013 9:57AM
Just another wasteful government subsidy that's not paying off.
Apr 23, 2013 9:36AM
The guy that wrote this article clearly works for the Big Oil Companies. This nut working for the Oil Companies no doubt wants to  justify Big Oil ripping off consumers the last decade via manipulation of supplies. If that money in the trillions was spend instead towards newer and cleaner energy, we wouldn't need either the jobs of Big Oil nor their product.
Apr 24, 2013 1:31AM
This guy is basically repeat and spew out industry numbers into his number game story and try to minimize the Solar Foundation just for his topic line.  Come on!  The oil industry is an existing one and most existing industry today are cutting cost and employees.  Solar Energy is new to American consumers and it is slowly learned and slowly adopted by farmers to cut energy cost.  Also, I see quite a few solar panels here around traffic lights on new roads. Thus it is growing as cost drop.  You get a better story from this link.
Apr 24, 2013 12:32AM

I second dave1230's comment. It seems like a paid article. The article ignores fundamental issues such as the number of jobs per generated kW, infrastructure costs, pollution and carbon footprint per kW etc. The 'reasoning' of the article is to compare an ounce of gold with a ton of iron and consequently conclude that gold is more expensive than iron!


Not to mention, the Iraq War, which has cost nearly a trillion dollars so far and it is expected to cost 15-20 trillion in veteran benefits for the next 40 years -- so that the oil industry can have record profits (of approx. 40 billion) while the American taxpayer is called to pay the bill hefty with dollars and blood.


If we do not assume the author to be so unintelligent and misguided, we must assume that he is paid and he is unconscionable. 

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