The Phoenix Recipe for Solar Manufacturing Job Creation

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In this economic climate, every state wants new jobs. And harnessing the sun for electricity creates more of those coveted jobs per megawatt-hour than any other energy resource. These are high quality jobs across a broad range of education requirements, salary levels and fields. The majority (about 75%) are related to construction and installation, representing local solar jobs that are by their nature virtually non-outsourceable – a quality that we think is mighty valuable. But it’s that remaining 25%, the manufacturing jobs, that really captures the American imagination.

So how do you you go about creating American solar manufacturing jobs in a competitive global industry? Phoenix, Arizona has undoubtedly done something right. To date, the region has recently successfully attracted about a dozen high-profile manufacturers (including First Solar and Suntech) – totaling 6,300 jobs and more than $1.8 billion in investment over the course of just a couple years. That kind of solar economic development is enough to make any other state turn green (ahem) with envy.

It’s not the state’s ample sunshine that drew those manufacturers in. On last week’s Get Some Sun webinar, Chris Camacho of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council explained how it took a combination of strong local solar demand and savvy tax policy to create the right climate for success.

A few highlights of his recipe for success:

Partnership with solar industry – At the outset, GPEC dedicated time to meeting with solar manufacturers throughout North America, Germany, Spain and China – getting to know the various solar players, technologies, markets and really soliciting input from them regarding policies that would impact a decision to locate in Arizona.

Policymaker and community engagement – GPEC held a series of events to educate legislators, regulators and the local community regarding the importance of making Arizona an early leader in the race to build solar manufacturing clusters. The group successfully built strong support among these decision makers and their constituents for solar as an priority issue in the state’s path to economic recovery.

Three-pronged policy strategy – Having listened carefully to industry and assessed the local political landscape, GPEC took a multi-faceted approach to policy, starting with favorable tax policies. In 2009 the state passed a bill to provide both a temporary property tax reduction and refundable tax credit that’s useful in the case that the manufacturer doesn’t have tax liability at the end of the year. In conjunction, GPEC continues to support demand-side policies like the RPS, DG requirements and residential finance programs to ensure the long-term, sustainable growth of the companies locating in the state. And in order to ensure a qualified workforce, the state dedicated resources to workforce development programs at Arizona State University and local community colleges, and the Governor directed ARRA funds to other job training programs. All of these policies were carefully assessed to ensure a net positive impact on the state’s general fund. It’s worth noting that “Made in Arizona” type manufacturing requirements did not make the cut.

Listening to the Arizona example, it is clear that the campaign effectively solicited input from and garnered the broad support of local community, solar industry, and policymakers at the state, county and city levels – no small feat. And the results speak for themselves. It’s clear that Arizona’s work to attract solar manufacturing will deliver returns to the state’s economy today and for years to come. Take a look . . .

Vote Solar is a non-profit grassroots organization working to fight climate change and foster economic opportunity by bringing solar energy into the mainstream.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

2 Comments

  1. I hope people like Nathan Deal who is a known crook ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d6BvSLB_L3U ) who managed to become the governor of Georgia should take a serious look at this. Despite the fact Jan Brewer is not known for her intelligence ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUPKKbmWMZ8 ) the Greater Phoenix economic council took charge and have done a great job. The 6300 new jobs and more to come with potential income of 1.8 BILLION dollars speaks for itself about these visionary people. If each state adopted such a view, we will have a drop in the cost of alternative energy and will soon become energy independent.

  2. I think the biggest key to drawing the solar manufacturing companies and jobs is the partnership with legislators. If it is a priority of the legislators as determined by their constituents, they can create the environment to make it happen.

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