America Must Protect Its Solar Industry

By Joel D. Joseph

The United States must lead the world in developing alternatives to oil, and solar energy should be a primary industry. Currently, Germany has more solar panels installed than the United States. Germany has about 25 gigawatts-worth of photovoltaic cells installed while the United States has only 2 gigawatts installed, with California providing half of that.

California and the American Southwest are much more compatible with solar power production than Germany. While Germany is cloudy and cold for six months of the year, California, Arizona and Nevada have warmth and sunshine most of the time. Fully 10% of Germany’s electricity is generated by solar cells. We can do much better.

Solar has come a long way in recent years and has great potential to grow in upcoming years. American innovation has solar approaching power at $1 per watt and parity with coal. Hawaii and large portions of Southern California are at wholesale grid parity. Residential and commercial solar markets are at retail grid parity in much of Northern California. This means that solar production is cost effective and competitive with coal.

That is the good news. Unfortunately, American solar manufacturing is at a crossroads. Simply put, events of the last two years have shaken the confidence our leaders and the public have in solar. Solyndra and China have been two daggers in the side of the American solar energy industry.

Chinese manufacturers, recipients of billions of dollars of illegal government subsidies, remain the culprit as they dump their products in the US market seeking to grab market share and push American manufacturers out of business. China’s unfair trade practices have crushed America’s solar industry, resulting in the closure or downsizing of twelve American manufacturing companies and the loss of thousands of American jobs. One company, SolarWorld, shut down its Camarillo, Calif., facility after 35 years last September and eliminated the jobs of nearly 200 employees. As a vocal advocate for products manufactured in the USA, this is startling news. The Made in the USA Foundation is one of 190 associate members of the Coalition for American Solar Manufacturing (CASM) – which represents more than 16,000 workers nationwide – and also explains why we are extremely interested in the industry’s continued development.

The United States must maintain and support a strong domestic solar manufacturing base to not only protect much needed jobs but also to protect the solar industry and to combat the stranglehold that oil and coal have on the United States.

Manufacturing jobs offer workers better benefits and better pay, and generate higher-levels of additional jobs than other sectors throughout our economy, which are exactly what California and America need right now. In fact, a recent report by the Photo Voltaic Group of SEMI, the industry trade group, noted that manufacturing had the highest job multiplier of any segment of the American economy, higher than construction, agriculture, or information services.

With the worldwide solar energy marketplace growing rapidly and expected to become even larger in the future, America must maintain its position as a leader in solar energy manufacturing and innovation. We cannot allow China to assume that role and take American jobs by breaking international trade laws.

Fair trade can benefit American workers and companies. Our goods and services are among the best in the world and competition ensures that the market operates fairly. US companies can compete and win against foreign competitors in the global marketplace, but only if it is done on a level playing field.

Those nations that break the rules to give their industries an unfair advantage must be held accountable to US and international trade law.

Contrary to the claims of installers who rely on cheap, subsidized Chinese solar panels, we believe that the US government cannot ignore US trade laws. The United States must enforce its trade laws and keep solar panel production in the United States so that we can lead the greening of energy production worldwide.

Joel Joseph is chairman of the Made in the USA Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting American-made products. Email Phone 310 MADE-USA.

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2012

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