THE BLOG
10/13/2011 11:01 am ET Updated Dec 13, 2011

Garden State? More Like Sunshine State

Last week I watched New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie turn his 15 minutes of fame into an hour-long press conference. As far as I'm concerned, Christie -- and the national media -- missed the real story coming out of New Jersey.

A new Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) report confirms that New Jersey has surpassed California as the state with the largest commercial solar market. Yes, you read that right: New Jersey! I'm a huge Springsteen fan, and I've even made a pilgrimage to the Stone Pony. But New Jersey?

Photovoltaic installations in the Garden State now account for 24 percent of all U.S. installations, showing an unparalleled growth rate of 170 percent between the first and second quarter in 2011.

New Jersey's new standing comes from massive solar projects such as the Gloucester City Marine Terminal, which will produce enough energy to power 1,500 homes. The number of jobs created from these projects is also no small sum. New Jersey alone has created 5,000 solar jobs, not including the indirect jobs for bankers, architects, engineers, roofers and landscapers.

"More than 100,000 Americans are employed in solar, twice as many as in 2009," said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of SEIA. "They work at more than 5,000 companies -- the vast majority being small businesses -- across all 50 states."

The transition of small businesses to solar has played a large role in helping New Jersey reach its new high. Sharrott Winery in Winslow makes and chills 3,500 cases of locally produced wine a year with the sun's rays. Someone can pour me a glass of that!

Somehow, Solyndra keeps casting a shadow on the U.S. solar market. So I'll keep shining the light on what the American people really need to know about the job-creation potential of the clean energy economy.

The point, once again, is that Solyndra's demise does not mean the end for solar. Both commercial and residential projects are becoming more popular -- especially as the price of photovoltaic cells continues to fall -- and you can bet that the industry will persist and thrive as more states follow New Jersey's lead.

And here's what really cool. While New Jersey is moving ahead, other states -- like Arizona -- aren't holding back! Competition for these jobs and the lion's share of this industry is on. States that show the most customer growth -- like New Jersey and Arizona are doing -- will become the new Silicon Valleys of solar.

Solar is a growing industry in a stagnant economy. If we want to solve our local and domestic economic woes while making the world a better place, we must get energy smart. New Jersey is proof that there's no reason every state can't be the Sunshine State.

Brian Keane is the President of SmartPower, a non-profit marketing organization funded by private foundations to help build the clean energy marketplace by helping the American public become smarter about their energy use.