Not unique from any economic development strategy, it is important to examine community assets to boost green job development. Toledo, Ohio, is nicknamed the Glass City because it is known as a major glass manufacturer. Unfortunately, Toledo lost one-third of its manufacturing jobs since 2000, leaving excess manufacturing capacity and a highly skilled workforce. Although it might sound like a stretch, Toledo capitalized off of this by becoming a solar manufacturing hub.
Considering that solar panels (thin-film or otherwise) are a glass product, this regional expertise came in handy and people jumped at the opportunity. The University of Toledo’s Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization has been in existence for 25 years. The Ohio university solar energy research programs received a great boost, with the Ohio Department of Development investing $18.6 million in university solar-energy research combined with $30 million from federal agencies and industrial partners. Toledo is now home to the largest thin-film solar manufacturer facility in the US, First Solar, as well as numerous solar start-up companies–6,000 people are employed in manufacturing and research related to the solar industry in the area. This may not replace all the manufacturing jobs lost in the region, but it is a good start.
The solar success story in Toledo would have been unlikely if numerous elements didn’t come together on a federal, state and local level. Solar advances from the University of Toledo’s Wright Center for Photovoltaics Innovation and Commercialization, combined with corporate cooperation, and government grants allowed this market to flourish.
America has allowed its manufacturing sector to significantly decline over the last several decades. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 5.3 million manufacturing jobs were lost from May 1999 to 2009. Many of these jobs were lost when manufacturing plants were moved overseas. Unfortunately, the carbon footprint of a product is increased if it is not locally produced.
Although stimulus money was used to finance wind farms, the Buy American clause in many instances is relatively weak. For example, for renewable energy developers that are using a cash grant in lieu of a tax credit, the Buy American provision does not apply. This may not sound very significant unless you consider that 70 to 75% of the jobs in wind and solar energy are in manufacturing. In Washington, a state with 1980 megawatts of installed wind energy capacity, not one wind turbine was manufactured in the US.
Tremendous opportunities in green job creation are being lost. A host of goods can be produced domestically, including energy efficiency products, rail cars, lithium-ion batteries (for electric vehicles), and solar panel.
Long-term National Policies for Renewable Energy
Lack of stable policy has created a lot of market uncertainty. The stimulus act extended some incentives until 2012, but more long-term policy is needed. Two-dozen states have established renewable energy portfolio standards, which is helpful but doesn’t eliminate the need for a uniform federal policy.
Germany created a feed-in tariff, where solar power is purchased for a specific amount. This and other actions have made Germany a global leader in the industry. Its renewable energy sector employs 273,700 people.
Photo Credit: Kiril Lozanov of Solar Service Inc. (upper photo)
Coskata, Inc. (lower photo)
Sarah Lozanova is passionate about the new green economy and is a regular contributor to environmental and energy publications and websites, including Energy International Quarterly, ThinkGreen.com, Triple Pundit, Green Business Quarterly, Renewable Energy World, and Green Business Quarterly. Her experience includes work with small-scale solar energy installations and utility-scale wind farms. She earned an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School and is a co-founder of Trees Across the Miles, an urban reforestation initiative.