U.S. Loses 3rd Largest Solar Producer AND 800 Jobs, 01/15/11

Keith Bradsher reports in today’s New York Times that Evergreen Solar is to close its main U.S. factory and shift its proprietary technology and production to China.

This news should be another wake-up call for the need in the U.S. for a protective renewable energy industrial policy. Even though Evergreen received $43 million in tax credits and grants from Massachusetts, Evergreen is not to blame for making the move. Their business motive is rightfully bottom line, not to protect domestic jobs. Job creation policy is the role of government.

Recently, it was revealed that the Defense Department is requiring domestic content for purchases of solar panels. This is a step in the right direction to build and retain a home-grown industry and jobs. Government policy could also make it more difficult for companies like Evergreen to transfer their technology abroad. For example, it could restrict U.S. Patent protection to products with a minimum 80% domestic value-added in manufacturing.

Mr. Bradsher alluded to the uncertainty of the incentive price of energy sold back to the grid as an impediment to domestic demand. A year ago, I had the opportunity to meet Carol Browner and ask about the need for a national Feed-In Tariff; she responded that a FIT would not work here because the U.S. has diverse power companies regulated by individual states. However, that should not preclude the incentive of a national matching FIT subsidy to the states.

Demand could also be fueled by the adoption of “fully loaded” PACE bonds (Property Assessed Clean Energy Bonds) that would enable the deduction of principal as well as interest for residential installations of solar panels. But, Fannie and Freddie are resisting, since the liens would come before their mortgage liens. Congress could easily legislate this hurdle away.