State seeks to support solar industry after Solyndra

October 26, 2011 7:21:15 PM PDT
The stage is set for a possible trade war with China over solar panels; at the same time, Sacramento lawmakers are working on ways to support the expansion of the clean tech industry.

The number of people working for clean tech companies in California is at 25,000, and the non-profit Solar Foundation expects that number to rise. Solyndra was a highly-visible setback, but state lawmakers are hard at work trying to find ways to support these companies.

The Senate Select Committee on Green Jobs, chaired by Senator Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, is listening for ideas. Brian Sager, whose company Nanosolar makes thin-film solar collectors, suggested low-cost loans could go a long way to buy certain kinds of equipment needed to boost production.

"They may be $10 million, $20 million dollars, that kind of scale, to buy one, two, three or more different bottleneck tools (that) would release the production bottleneck and allow the rest of the factor to run in a much more balanced way," said Sager.

Solar panel manufacturers based in the U.S. may also get help in terms of higher tariffs for panels imported from China. A coalition of seven American solar panel makers has petitioned U.S. trade officials, complaining of unfair subsidies.

The target is Suntech Power, a Chinese company with an assembly plant and offices in the U.S. The complaint could create a major trade dispute.

"These industries are growing in other countries because there are [sic] government financing (and) land that is given to these companies," Corbett said. "That's how they are growing jobs in these countries."

Solaria, the Fremont-based solar panel company, decided against joining the complaint.

"We did not want to get involved in trade disputes at this time," said Solaria president Suvi Sharma. "We work in China, we work in the U.S., we work in India, we work in Europe -- so, in our view, it's important to have a strong, global, competitive open market."

Trade disputes take time to resolve, so California lawmakers say they will be focused on seeing what they can do to support clean energy and create more jobs in the meantime.


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