Stimulus funds create solar jobs in Fremont

September 4, 2009 8:17:09 PM PDT
Fremont is at the nexus of a rapidly changing economy. Last week, 4,700 employees at the city's NUMMI auto plant learned that Toyota will shut down the one-time joint venture with GM next spring. Friday, Fremont's mayor, along with state and federal officials, were heralding the creation of 3,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent manufacturing jobs at a site less than a mile south of the NUMMI plant.

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Solyndra, the maker of thin solar panels and rooftop systems, broke ground Friday on a new fabrication facility that will quadruple the output of its existing plant on Kato Road in Fremont. The bulk of the expansion project is being financed by a $535 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy under the federal stimulus program.

The year-long project will require construction crews to work two shifts a day, and that need has already created jobs for workers who have been unemployed for as long as five months as a result of the recession.

"Some of our people have been out for five months, six months, four months, three and they're coming back to work," Ray Cordero said.

Cordero, assistant superintendent at Redwood City based construction firm Rudolph & Sletten, says it is an opportunity to put good people back to work. He has been flooded by phone calls from job seekers.

Vice President Joe Biden joined the groundbreaking ceremony on the Solyndra construction site Friday morning by satellite. He noted that the pace of layoffs is slowing, which he credits to the federal stimulus program.

"Lees bad is not good," Biden said. "We're not going to be satisfied any more than the governor is or anyone else is until we start adding, not losing, thousands of jobs per month."

Friday morning, the Labor Department announced 216,000 jobs were lost in August. That compares to job losses of 741,000 in January; 681,000 in February; and 652,000 in March.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who joined other officials in turning a shovel of dirt at the groundbreaking, called solar energy a growth industry with the potential of creating jobs that cannot be exported.

"The funding announced today will help finance production of enough solar systems to power 24,000 homes a year over or more than half a million homes over their projected 30 year lifetime," Chu said.

While solar panel technology was invented in the U.S., Chu said, competition from China caused the U.S. market share of solar panel production to drop from about 50 percent to less than 10 percent in the past 14 years. Solyndra is making solar panels with a new design that has won customers not only in the domestic market, but also overseas.

Gov. Schwarzenegger says the state is committed to finding a way to replace the 4,700 jobs that will be lost at NUMMI with high tech, high-wage manufacturing jobs.

"We want to bring companies in and to go to the NUMMI plant and to have those workers that lose their jobs but continue working just, except than building cars, build something that has to do with green technology," Schwarzenegger said.

The governor specifically called for passage of Assembly Bill 1111, which would provide tax incentives for a company that would move clean tech manufacturing into the NUMMI facility. He also attended the Solyndra groundbreaking.

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