The Hill OpEd: Solar industry successful and growing in California

April 10, 2014

The United States has made major advances toward creating new sources of renewable, clean and domestic energy in the last decade. Federal, state and local governments are committed to working with private businesses, unlocking America’s entrepreneurial spirit so that we might solve the challenge of creating whole new energy industries where none existed before.

And of these new industries, one is exceeding all expectations, especially in California: solar.

 It isn’t hard to remember the days when solar was relegated to school science fairs — a source of energy that sounded nice but would only be practical in the far-out, distant future. But today, solar companies are providing consumers with cheap, clean and renewable energy while creating new middle-class jobs. In fact, America added 20,000 solar jobs last year alone.

Closer to home, a recent “Solar Census” conducted by The Solar Foundation confirms that California has become the solar capital of America. In fact, of this nation’s 145,000 solar employees, one-third reside in the Golden State.

California companies like Sullivan Solar Power, Soitec, SolarCity, Sungevity, SunRun and SunEdison, just to name a few, are saving consumers money on their electricity bills, boosting local businesses and creating good-paying jobs in our communities.

I recently met with George Hershman, division manager at Swinerton Renewable Energy in San Diego. George told me how his firm chose to invest resources toward harnessing the power of the sun and expanded its green consulting activities into its overall business structure. What might have once been considered a gamble has paid off; since 2008, Swinerton’s Renewable Energy Division has witnessed annual growth of up to 30 percent, created 1,700 solar jobs in the Western U.S., including trade workers, suppliers and vendors, and is saving consumers millions of dollars in reduced energy bills.

It’s companies like Swinerton and the other 180 solar companies in the San Diego region that have led the California Solar Initiative to name San Diego the “Number One Solar City.”

But America’s solar industry is facing a major challenge. Trade petitions at the International Trade Commission and the Department of Commerce threaten to impose tariffs on solar products from abroad. This tax would drive up the cost of solar products, and price hundreds of California companies out of the market by making solar uncompetitive against other cheap forms of electricity generation, like coal and natural gas. These tariffs would destroy thousands of middle-class jobs and reverse our recent advances toward clean, renewable and domestic solar energy.

There must be another way to settle this dispute. I urge the parties involved to come together for a negotiated solution that protects American jobs and prevents harmful disputes from arising in the future.

We need to seize this opportunity to deploy affordable solar energy while creating thousands of American jobs, not begin a counter-productive trade war. Jobs, in California and across America, depend on it. 

Peters has represented California’s 52nd Congressional District since 2013. He sits on the Armed Services and the Science, Space and Technology committees.

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Peters called ā€œone of the more statesmanlike of our elected representativesā€

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