Here Come The Green Jobs!
Two recent news items - one an announcement by a manufacturing plant in Fresno and the other a story in the San Luis Obispo newspaper - underline the impact of the emerging solar energy industry in Central California and the western United States. They also help fulfill the promise of green jobs.
First was this: PPG Industries said it will make components for the solar power industry at its Fresno plant. The company said it is the only maker of Solarphire PV glass on the West Coast, which will enhance its ability to serve an industry that is expected to surge in the Southwest and Asia - two regions that have strong potential for new solar projects.
Then there was this: About 400 workers are employed at two solar-power construction sites just west of the San Joaquin Valley. The construction is expected to take about three years.
Read more here and here.
While PPG officials say the current expansion won’t add any jobs to the Fresno plant, who is to say that won’t change if solar gains in popularity? PPG is smart to carve out a niche.
Meanwhile, the solar construction jobs in the Carrizo Plain of San Luis Obispo County could be the first of many more in the area. Dozens of other proposals - some of them pretty substantial (check this out) have been approved or are awaiting approval - in Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties, in addition to those under way in San Luis Obispo County.
Those proposals combined with projects earmarked for the Southern California desert (think industrial revolution!) could provide construction jobs for the next several years. They also help California meet or exceed its ambitious 33 percent renewables mandate.
Of course, it is unlikely that all of the proposed projects will be approved. Financing issues, conflicts with farming groups and habitat/environmental concerns will probably knock some out, but I wonder if green energy could become a new industry in the Valley and beyond.
Buffett Bets Big On Solar Power In California
MidAmerican Energy Holdings said it is acquiring the $2 billion Topaz Solar Farm in San Luis Obispo County from First Solar because it expands the company’s renewable energy portfolio and because it, “…demonstrates that solar energy is a commercially viable technology without the support of governmental loan guarantees…”
The purchase occurred after First Solar failed to get a federal loan guarantee to secure construction of the plant, according to this Reuters story.
Buffett, known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” already invests in wind energy and in China’s BYD Co. Ltd., which makes electric cars and batteries, and has other green technologies, including solar. This purchase of a 550-megawatt photovoltaic power plant - enough to power 160,000 homes when it is finished in early 2015 - is a sign of support for the emerging solar industry. It also follows the high-profile implosion of Solyndra, a solar company that failed after receiving a $535 million government loan guarantee.
First Solar will build and operate the plant for MidAmerican. Construction began in November and will create about 400 construction jobs and 15 permanent operations and maintenance jobs. The expected economic impact on the region during construction is expected to be abut $417 million over 25 years.
The Carrizo Plain, along with Kern, Kings and Fresno counties, is part of a region in Central California that is a potential hotbed for solar projects. Kern and Fresno counties alone are fielding more than 60 applications, according to this recent blog post. Those include a proposal for a huge solar farm in Westlands Water District that would cover 3,600 acres of retired farmland. Find out more here.
Meanwhile, officials in various counties and in the state are trying to balance the interests of farmers with those of this potentially new industry. Much of that conflict revolves around the Williamson Act, which protects farm land from development. A law signed in November, SB 618, attempts to help ease those conflicts. (Here is more on that bill)
Buffett is a shrewd businessman and wouldn’t have invested in this solar plant if he didn’t expect rosy returns, including some impressive government incentives, as this blog points out. It remains to be seen how large the solar industry will become in Central California, but this investment by one of the nation’s richest men shows that solar is becoming more viable, especially in California.