N.J.'s largest solar company lays off 80, but says rehiring likely
The state's largest solar company has cut 20 percent of its staff, though the firm's chief executive said the cutbacks are only temporary.
Trinity Solar, which at its height had 400 employees, laid off about 80 installers earlier this month, according to President and CEO Tom Pollock. Pollock said the move was necessary due to delays, rather than cancellations, of projects in the company's pipeline.
"These jobs go through a whole paperwork process, and that's just been taking longer than normal because of the climate of solar," Pollock said.
The climate of the solar industry is uncertain at the moment. Lawmakers in Trenton have yet to come up with a fix for the state's market-based solar incentive program. Under the highly successful program, owners of solar arrays can earn credits based on the solar power they generate. Those credits — called SRECs, for solar renewable energy certificates — can be sold on the open market to state power suppliers, which use the credits to offset their state renewable energy mandates.
The incentive sparked so much growth in the solar industry that last year the supply of credits exceeded demand, causing SREC market prices to drop from $650 to as low as $150.
In addition to the state uncertainty, a federal incentive that gave solar array owners an immediate grant equal to 30 percent of the project's cost expired in December, though project owners can still get a 30 percent tax credit.
Pollock said he hopes to hire back the affected employees within the next couple of months. He said a couple of employees have already been hired back.
The setback was the first hiccup for a company that otherwise has seen steady growth.
Trinity Solar grew out of Trinity Heating and Air in 2004. Back then, the firm had just 26 employees. In February, the firm moved into a new, 140,000-square-foot headquarters in Wall Township. In November, the company announced it had installed its 3,000th megawatt of solar generation capacity, a milestone that puts it far ahead of its rivals in the industry.
Pollock said business is still relatively steady. Trinity did about 150 installations in January, and he said the current pace is about 125 installations per month.
Pollock said Trinity is large enough to weather the uncertainty, though he said it's possible that the volatility "could have a big effect" on smaller companies.
"I think they're seeing most of the effects," he said. "We can survive whatever's going to happen."
Pollock said his company is "not in trouble," but at the current time they simply couldn't keep as many employees on board. But Pollock said he anticipates landing two large jobs soon, which could lead to more re-hires. He disputed the notion that perhaps the company grew too fast, saying the company only hired people when it had work to warrant the hires.
Pollock also said he trusts Gov. Chris Christie to find a fix to the SREC issue.
"We're going to survive it well," he said. "We're not having any troubles as a company. We had a great year last year."