Of Solar Grants, Green Jobs, and Buy American

H.R. 1 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 ready for President Obama to sign into law.
Solar provisions and implications of the $787 billion economic stimulus package.

US-Capital Before the final United States House of Representatives and Senate votes on Friday, February 13, 2009, the SEIA (Solar Energy Industries Association) congratulated Congressional leaders for working out a compromise economic recovery bill with “Solar Industry Ready to Hire and Create Growth Opportunities with Economic Recovery Package” and said:

Three provisions in the bill are critical for solar:

Renewable Energy Grant Program:  Offers Dept. of Energy grants equal to 30 percent of the cost of solar projects started in the next two years, including large-scale utility projects.  This is a critical alternative to solar tax credits that are not functioning as Congress intended in the current economic climate.

Loan Guarantee Program:  Creates a new, streamlined loan guarantee program to support financing of renewable energy systems, including solar energy technology.

Manufacturing Investment Credit: Creates a 30-percent investment tax credit for facilities engaged in the manufacture of renewable energy property or equipment.

Since I posted Solar Grant: What is a Refundable Renewable Energy Tax Credit?, the “solar grant” has been promoted to fashionable jargon.

H.R. 1 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

Please see “The Final American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 Summaries Posted Online” at Speaker Pelosi’s The Gavel Blog for the conference report, bill text, and bill summaries.

This Preliminary Overview of Conference Report on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 from the Office of Speaker Nancy Pelosi has the renewable energy and solar provisions highlighted by the SEIA. The tax credit for families purchasing plug-in hybrid vehicles is highlighted while the SEIA appears conflicted about how to categorize energy efficiency programs. Doesn’t a Watt saved have the lowest cost per Watt?

Green Jobs are Good Jobs?

SEIA President & CEO Rhone Resch also said:

We expect to create 67,000 jobs in 2009 alone and a total of 119,000 jobs over the next two years, putting Americans back to work installing solar panels, manufacturing components and constructing solar power plants.

But what sorts of green jobs will the solar industry create as a result of the solar stimulus provisions? Will they be product and process research and development jobs for scientists and engineers, staff positions at company headquarters, EPC (Engineering, Procurement, and Construction) jobs or all of the above?

Earlier this month, the 2009 Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference tackled the issue, and “Will Green Jobs Become the New Greenwash?” by Joel Makower reflects on the topic at his Two Steps Forward blog. The Good Jobs, Green Jobs Expo Exhibitors list tips the scale to EPC jobs as few (BP only?) solar manufacturing companies bothered to attend. “Labor Organizers, Environmental Activists Forge New Alliance” by Rosanne Skirble for the Voice of America also defines and questions the quality of certain green jobs generated to date.

Buy American

Most of the major American solar companies maintain a manufacturing base in the United States including First Solar, Energy Conversion Devices, and Evergreen Solar. Many thin film and a few crystalline silicon solar start-ups are building pilot lines or production capacity in the United States.

The significant exception is SunPower Corporation (NASDAQ:SPWRA). SunPower employed 84% of their 5450 fulltime workforce in the Philippines manufacturing solar cells and modules per the SunPower Form 10-Q Quarterly Report Filed Nov 7, 2008 for the Period Ending 09/28/08 and before “SunPower Lays Off 60 Employees” by Ucilia Wang at Greentech Media.

Perhaps by strategy or after enabling political change, “The stimulus: What’s in it for Silicon Valley’s tech economy?” by John Boudreau and Matt Nauman at Mercury News report:

“For some time, we’ve considered expanding our manufacturing footprint in the U.S. beyond our modest facility in Richmond,” said Julie Blunden, a SunPower vice president. “This could certainly accelerate our thinking about where and when we could deploy.”

All the talk in the “SunPower Corporation Q4 2008 Earnings Call Transcript” at Seeking Alpha was fixated on the progress of their 1-Gigawatt-Scale Solar-Cell Factory in Malaysia.

Contrast SunPower with the “German” company SolarWorld AG (FRA:SWV). SolarWorld USA was established after the acquisition of Shell Solar in 2006 and the Hillsboro, Oregon, Komatsu silicon wafer production facility in 2007. SolarWorld is investing over $400 million renovating the Hillsboro facility to produce up to 500 MW (MegaWatts) of silicon wafers and cells annually while employing about 1000 people by 2009.

Manufacturing Investment Tax Credit

Incumbent solar photovoltaic companies with established revenue streams and profits are best positioned to leverage the tax credit by investing in manufacturing capacity. Will this encourage Q-Cells AG to reconsider their plan for “Q-Cells AG to invest in Mexico” and build their thin film production complex north of the border? Escalating drug cartel violence in Mexico may become the final driver.

Both Applied Materials (“Statement of Mike Splinter in Support of the Economic Recovery Act”) and Oerlikon Solar (“Oerlikon Solar’s statement on stimulus package”) are pinning their hopes and amorphous silicon production line backlogs on the US manufacturing investment tax credit.

However, in the February 10, 2009, Applied Materials Inc. Company Note titled “Bracing for Sustained Downturn; Diminishing Opportunity in Solar”, Sr. Research Analyst Jesse Pichel and his Piper Jaffray & Co. Team said:

We believe the rapidly falling price of polysilicon may allow the $2/W ASP panel in 2010. This may close the window on Gen1 single junction amorphous silicon panels made on AMAT tools; and the window may be closing on Gen2 tandem junction a-Si panels of which no customers WW have reached commercial scale or cost.

In my opinion, Oerlikon Solar =may= still have a window of opportunity with their micromorph Thin Film Silicon Solar Module production solution, but they will need to ramp Auria Solar (“Taiwan’s Auria Solar starts micromorph® pilot production”) and accelerate further deployments.

For “That ‘Buy American’ Provision by The Editors at The New York Times, Professor Burton Folsom Jr. said:

Second, if we refuse to buy China’s imports, China will refuse to buy our exports, including our first-rate computers and iPods.

Professor, aren’t almost all those computers and iPods already made in China? Is “Go East, Solar Companies” by Ucilia Wang at Greentech Media the inescapable trend? I prefer to think competitive technology, a skilled and productive workforce, and a streamlined supply chain will result in competitive solar cell or module production or both in the United States.

5 comments

  1. NatureAdvice says:

    Good to know that people are opting for alternative energy source or renewable energy as it is can be recycled and ready to use…solar enery should be given more importance as it is easily available and that too in plenty without distubing our planet “EARTH”.. I think Business Gaint can play an important role as 20-30% of carbon are from industries..using alternate energy wld also cultivate jobs..

    NatureAdvice
    http://www.justmeans.com

  2. Anthony Buray says:

    What is being done for us homeowners that are total electric and want to go solar? Spent hours looking for grants, either fed or state, with no luck. We do need some help. Thanks.

  3. Before my wife, Rosetta, unexpectedly lost her job in October, 2008, we started an extensive remodel project on our home in Shoreline to include solar panels. She has not been able to find work. We are without bedrooms, and the project has been unbelievably expensive. Do you know of grant money that will help us reach our very important goal? We will very much appreciate any help or information you can give us.

    Thanks
    Brian Kastama

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