Are U.S. solar jobs here to stay? Senators fight for a yes.

November 11, 2009

A trio of U.S. senators this week introduced a bill to spur solar manufacturing jobs in the United States.

Through additional tax credits, the legislation aims to encourage more U.S. companies to make solar equipment, creating jobs and building up the country’s clean energy economy.

Many — from politicians and environmentalists to investors –  have pinned great hopes on green jobs. Clean energy could create 850,000 manufacturing jobs in the United States, according to recent research Reuters reported this week.

The latest proposal could create 315,000 U.S. jobs along, according to Solar Energy Industries Association, which is pushing for the bill.

But would the extra tax incentives be enough to keep solar power companies producing in the United States?

A decade ago, the United States produced more than 40 percent of the world’s solar photovoltaic cells that convert sunlight into electricity. In 2008, the United States made only 5 percent of the world’s solar cells, according to the solar group.

Those numbers seem bleak. But the solar jobs landscape is not so black and white.

Chinese companies Suntech and Yingli have plans to start manufacturing in the United States. At the same time, the largest U.S. solar company First Solar has announced plans to open a massive plant in China and U.S.-based Evergreen Solar is speeding up its strategy to outsource to China.

Last week Evergreen Solar’s executives had to answer questions from analysts about their plans to move panel assembly to China from Massachusetts.

“There is a lot of capacity going in the ground in Asia. But I think as companies do their own homework and do cost comparison it is compelling that the costs in China or low — low capital costs, low labor costs, low overhead costs,” said Evergreen Solar’s chief executive Richard Feldt on a conference call with analysts.

“And so I think it will be difficult to be a worldwide supplier of scale and not have some operations in
China.” Feldt added.

(Photo: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger looks at solar panels with New York Governor George Pataki. Photo credit: REUTERS/Richard Drew)

One comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

It might have been interesting to include the names of the three Senators.

Just sayin’