To borrow a phrase from former presidential candidate Ross Perot, that "sucking sound" you may be hearing could be the departure of the nascent American solar manufacturing industry.
Last week Evergreen Solar of Devens, MA announced that it is shutting down its plant and shedding 800 local jobs in order to move its manufacturing to China. Evergreen Solar is the third largest manufacturer in the United States, and its closing comes on the heels of other large solar manufacturers shutting their doors and shedding jobs, including SpectraWatt in East Fishkill, NY, which just put 120 people out of work, and the Silicon Valley-based Solyndra's closing of one of its two plants.
Each of these companies has received many millions of dollars in subsidies, incentives, and loan guarantees in one form or another. Some of the reasons given behind these closings include poor economic conditions in the U.S. and Europe, cheaper labor in China, and the inability to work with our own local and national agencies.
In total, however, these reasons don't add up. In truth, it may be that the solar industry isn't growing as quickly as predicted or as fast as it needs to be. It's not that solar energy isn't moving forward in this country, but energy independence is still not a priority. And this leaves the need for clean and sustainable energy out of the question for the moment. We still haven't had the "aha" moment when we realize that digging for oil and coal is a short-term bet and, much like our ballooning national debt, a huge mortgage on our future.
But there is also another factor that may be coming into play, much like the dot-com boom-and-bust from a decade ago. Being an industry that isn't close to maturity, solar energy saw too many dollars flooding its already inflated market, which will certainly cause investment distress.
However, the biggest fallout may come in terms of the new "green" economy and the jobs that are to be created. It's true that these are new manufacturing jobs, and it's critical at this point in our fledgling economic turn-around to keep adding them. Yet it's disheartening to watch as these new jobs, which are supposed to replace other jobs that will never return, actually leave the country so quickly.
There are many unanswered questions regarding the solar industry in the United States, but the latest news does not give any indication that this is a sustainable industry.
Jonathan A. Schein is CEO, ScheinMedia, publisher of GreenRealEstateDaily.com
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