Solar energy has the power to transform our economy by providing a clean, reliable source of cost-effective electricity to all Americans. The industry is working to harness this power with transformative technology. Wisely, policymakers in Washington have taken notice and have put in place policies that build upon these innovations and help make solar increasingly affordable.
In December, Congress approved an extension of the Treasury Grant Program (TGP) which has driven the development of thousands of solar energy projects in 42 states creating jobs and fostering more than a billion dollars of new investment in solar.
The Treasury Grant Program is as an essential policy that helped solar achieve robust growth in the midst of a recession. The industry grew by 100 percent from 2009 to 2010 (final numbers are still coming in, but 2010 was another banner year) and saw the creation of tens of thousands of American jobs. This is largely due to the TGP’s cash advance option, which allows companies to apply for a grant in lieu of a solar tax credit.
Mirroring TGP’s success is the domestic renewable manufacturing incentives established by the 2009 Recovery Act. Ten years ago, the United States manufactured 40 percent of the world’s photovoltaic modules; today, we manufacture less than 10 percent. These incentives led to the construction of 58 solar manufacturing facilities in 17 states, creating new investment in places hit hardest by the recession. These factories are being built in states like Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee and Indiana – states that have been desperately looking for new jobs and new opportunity. Solar energy is providing both.
Finally, the solar industry reached a major milestone in late 2010 when the Department of the Interior gave the go-ahead for the first ever utility-scale solar power plant on public lands. It followed up that announcement with 8 more projects being announced in the following weeks. To put that in comparison, the oil and gas industries have received more than 74,000 leases on public lands in the last 20 years. When completed, these projects will provide enough electricity to meet demand for 730,000 homes. We expect even more announcements like this in 2011.
All of these efforts are helping to bring the industry to scale and drive down the cost of solar to be continually more competitive with fossil fuels.
These policies also translate directly to American jobs. According to a report by The Solar Foundation, the solar industry supports jobs for more than 93,000 Americans. Solar companies are even more bullish when it comes to hiring for 2011. The same report found that more than 50 percent of solar companies expect to add jobs in 2011, compared with only 2 percent expecting job cuts. This is extraordinary given the overall U.S. job picture and policymakers in Washington should take notice. Solar energy means jobs for their constituents and economic growth for their districts.
Written by Jared Blanton, Solar Energy Industries Association