Illinois leads in solar energy jobs

Craig Pals, vice president and co-founder of Tick Tock Energy Inc., displays a solar panel outside of the business in Effingham. Dawn Schabbing photo.

EFFINGHAM — Effingham's Tick Tock Energy was founded in 2006 when there were very few solar companies in Illinois. Today, they are smack dab in the middle of a state that leads the way in creating solar energy jobs.

Illinois is the national leader in solar job creation, with 37 percent job growth in 2018. The state added 1,308 jobs that year, according to the National Solar Jobs Census.

Craig Pals, vice president and co-founder of Tick Tock Energy Inc. in Effingham, said growth in solar jobs can be attributed to several factors: The public's desire to lower energy costs and self-generate a portion of their own power needs; a 30 percent federal tax credit that was created in 2005 and has been extended several times because of demand; large price decreases in equipment costs over the last 10 years; and Illinois' state incentives.

“All of these factors work together, however, in Illinois, the Solar Renewable Energy Credit (SREC) incentive administered under the Illinois Shines program has played an important factor in recent market growth for our company in the last few years,” said Pals.

Craig and Eric Pals formed Tick Tock Energy during a time when the solar industry in the United States was in its infancy, and nearly non-existent in Illinois.

“We started offering energy solutions such as solar photovoltaic, small wind turbines, building lighting retrofits and other energy-efficiency and consulting services,” said Craig Pals. “The company currently has 12 employees, adding seven in the last year alone. We employ many others at Pals Electric Inc. and other supporting subcontractors.”

The company covers a large geographical area in Illinois, and is also licensed in Missouri and Indiana. It has completed work in eight states over the years.

The jump in solar-related jobs moves Illinois ahead of other Midwest states in solar employment and it has established the state's solar workforce as the 13th largest in the nation, according to a Feb. 12 article by Business Wire.

The article reported that these job gains in Illinois came during the same time when nationwide solar jobs fell by 3.2 percent.

The census report showed that Illinois grew to 4,879 solar jobs, which puts it ahead of Minnesota, Michigan, Indiana and Missouri. This all came at a time when Illinois developed strong state policy and declining solar costs.

Lesley McCain, the executive director of the Illinois Solar Energy Association, said Tick Tock Energy is one of hundreds of companies across the state that are working in solar energy and growing jobs in project development, engineering, construction and installation, and the solar supply chain businesses.

She added that legislation by State Rep. Will Davis, D-East Hazel Crest, and State Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, “has introduced The Path to 100 Act, which will create a framework that will put the state on the path to 100 percent clean energy and ensure Illinois' clean energy economy continues to thrive.”

McCain said Illinois' current policy, Renewable Portfolio Standard, requires the state to generate 25 percent renewable energy by 2025, but it has fallen behind on reaching that goal.

“As things stand, Illinois will reach about 7 percent clean energy in 2020,” said McCain. “The Path to 100 Act will fix this, ensuring we can hit the 2025 target and hit 40 percent by 2030.”

The state solar association leader believes that this growth will equate to thousands of new jobs, local tax revenues and landowner payments across the state, not to mention reduced pollution and a more stable supply of electricity.

Pals said with the Path to 100 Initiative, the state will continue to seek to diversify its power supply mix by increasing the use of renewable energy, and he expects to see the company's need to support solar deployment grow.

“As distributed generation resources like solar and wind increase, there will be an increase in grid interconnection issues as small and large systems are connected to the existing electrical grid. Investing in grid upgrades to facilitate this growth will increasingly be important,” said Pals.

He added that generating one's own electricity from their rooftop or backyard can help localize power generation and reduce reliance on large central station power plants powered by nuclear, coal and natural gas.

Tick Tock Energy performs jobs such as marketing, sales, engineering and project management. Installation work is outsourced to Pals Electric Inc, led by Craig Pals and Eric Pals' brother, Matt, which was founded by their father, Mike Pals, in the early 1980s.

“At any given time, we typically have crews of three to eight people working for Pals Electric and other subcontractors to support our installations,” said Craig Pals. “We expect to add more staff internally and via our subs in 2019, to keep up with the growing workload.”

Pals said that within the next five years, Tick Tock Energy expects even more rapid growth and expansion. It plans to add more staff, office locations and increase its network of subcontractors.

Pals said Tick Tock Energy has enjoyed community support from the city, county, local businesses and homeowners.

“Over the years, we helped save tens of thousands of dollars with our solar and wind installations and energy-efficient lighting retrofit projects,” said Pals. “We're working with the City of Effingham to seek funding for their solar projects as well as many homeowners, farms, businesses, nonprofits, schools and others. We love to help take greater control of the energy and lower the consumer's utility costs.”

He believes the outlook for state subsidies for renewable energy will be strong in Illinois in the future. However, the company is concerned about Illinois' declining population, high pension liability, and prospect for rising taxation.

“However, the supporting job growth from renewable energy can definitely help stimulate employment and sales tax revenues and help make up for loss of power generation from older, less-efficient and more polluting forms of energy,” Pals said.

Dawn Schabbing can be reached at dawn.schabbing@effinghamdailynews.com or 217-347-7151 ext 138

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