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Solar industry: we still need taxpayers' cash

A new report from the Solar Foundation, a non-profit solar industry advocate, claims the solar industry is a bright spot in an others dreary economy. According to the report titled “National Solar Jobs Census 2011: A Review of the U.S. Solar Workforce” the U.S. now boasts 100,237 solar workers “defined as those workers who spend at least 50% of their time supporting solar-related activities—up 6.8% since August 2010.”

And the Solar Foundation says the future is even brighter!

Over the next 12 months, almost 50% of solar firms expect to add jobs while only 2.6% expect to cut workers. This finding is especially relevant given that the overall expected 12-month growth rate for the entire U.S. economy is only about 1.4%.

Since Colorado is ground zero for energy science projects such as photovoltaic solar panels, naturally Colorado ranked high in solar industry employment. The Boulder Daily Camera reports:

that as of August, Colorado had about 1,020 businesses and nearly 6,200 employees in the solar industry. This ranks the state No. 1 nationally for solar jobs per capita and No. 2 for overall number of solar jobs, behind California.

In a press release, Neal Lurie, Executive Director of the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association asserts, “Colorado’s entrepreneurial climate, commitment to clean energy, and growing customer demand have developed solar into a powerful economic driver.”

What Lurie doesn’t cite but is included in the report is that without taxpayer subsidies and government mandates, the market for solar would be much different. Solar employers cite the “extension of federal tax incentives” and “creation of state and local incentive programs” as the number one and two reasons for positive growth in the industry. These same employers indicate that general economic conditions and lack of state incentives are “barriers to growth.”

The report also profiles a Michigan solar manufacturer, Hemlock Semiconductor, which asserts that more taxpayer help is needed for the industry to continue growing:

Hemlock Semiconductor’s success isn’t independent of the industry, and for investment to continue into the future, the solar industry—including the U.S. solar market—will need to keep growing. To support this growth, federal renewable energy manufacturing tax credits are needed to help encourage business and create jobs throughout the solar industry value chain. Hemlock Semiconductor understands that even though its role appears early on the solar value chain, end user incentives like renewable energy standards and net metering, as well as solar technology R&D and financing, are absolutely essential to keeping its solar manufacturing business alive and well.

The Solar Foundation also campaigns for more government assistance with recommendations for lawmakers that include “incentives” and “investments,” in other words — taxpayer money.

  • Stable and consistent incentives and renewable goals are important ways to encourage employers to grow their businesses.
  • Create jobs by developing incentives that increase adoption of solar for consumers and businesses.
  • Invest in solar training, but recognize that although some entry-level positions do exist, the majority of solar jobs tend to be in high-skill occupations.

Bottom line is that even the solar industry acknowledges it needs taxpayer money and government-mandated renewable energy standards to remain viable. That’s the New Energy Economy.