the (new) american worker


SolarCity Catching Headwinds, Adding Jobs in 2010
April 18, 2010, 10:36 pm
Filed under: solar | Tags: , , , ,

Office with a view: Foster City, CA-based SolarCity is hiring for a range of roles to support its growing solar installation business.

A few days back, I wrote about the impressive growth in the residential solar market in 2009. One company that has caught these headwinds is SolarCity, a Foster City, CA-based solar leasing company that notably offers “no-money-down” leases for home solar installations. Apparently, more and more consumers are now taking SolarCity up on its offer – the San Jose Mercury News reports that the company added almost 300 jobs last year and anticipates adding another 250 in 2010. A spokesman for the company emphasized that these jobs were full-time, full benefits jobs – in my mind, an attractive transition for all those laid-off home contractors out there.

A quick scan of some job posting boards shows SolarCity isn’t just tossing around hiring claims for good press – they are indeed hiring, for a wide range of gigs. Take a look at Indeed.com, and you can see SolarCity is hiring everyone from installers to sales to brand management – the field or the corporate office – take your pick!



Tax Credits Continue To Boost Residential Solar Market

Being tax day, I thought I’d take a look at solar power – a renewable that gets tremendous support from the federal government, in the form of tax credits and other incentives. According to a Dow Jones piece today, this push is paying off, most prominently in residential solar power installation, which experienced 37 percent growth in 2009, up from 351 megawatts installed in 2008.

Residential solar projects doubled their growth in 2009, likely driven by federal and state solar installation tax credits.

What does this all mean? It means steep reductions in solar costs for the residential consumer and … my favorite … good jobs! Dow Jones reports that the solar industry added 10,000 jobs in 2009, to round out at 46,000 total workers in the U.S. solar industry. Driving this demand demand is the $270 million of federal grants the government is doling out to solar project owners, and for consumers, credits like California’s 7.5% state income tax credit on the purchase and installation costs of home solar or wind energy systems.

Though credits like California’s have been widely reported, I wonder if tax season will be able to really drive it home. Seeing it on your return – and the credits available – could hit the right note with those on-the-fence consumers.



No (Economic) Surprise: Green Manufacturing Jobs Flow Overseas
April 3, 2010, 2:52 pm
Filed under: jobs | Tags: , , , , ,

One of the persistent concerns of President Obama’s massive $367 billion federal investment in new energy projects – from coal to renewables – is that the American labor force is too expensive, and/or lacks the proper training, for the needs of producers. A piece in Bloomberg BusinessWeek this week captured this idea quite simply:

No surprises: Arizona's First Solar will use federal incentives to hire 200 American workers - yet 71 percent of its manufacturing needs will still be met by foreign labor.

From BBW:

“Tempe, Arizona-based First Solar Inc. plans to do 71 percent of its manufacturing hiring in Malaysia after getting $16.3 million in federal funding to hire 200 people at an Ohio plant.”

Herein lies the ultimate problem – the economics of outsourcing the majority of manufacturing needs still makes sense to companies, incentives or not. Unfortunately, this simple reality doesn’t quiet any of the political outrage – especially as the Obama administration attempts to make good on its promise of 700,000 new jobs in stimulus renewables projects.

A green “industrial revolution” right here in America sounds great to some people – me included. This very blog was created to educate myself and others on the potentials for American labor in a new energy economy. Yet how the Obama administration is supposed to leapfrog over simple economics – foreign labor is, in my cases, simply cheaper – is still unclear to me. Perhaps it really is time that our nation’s expectations are shifted towards the potentials that lie in specialization and competitive advantage. CNBC recently ran a days-long debate on this topic, and the discussion turned often to where our best efforts should lie: in advanced education and innovation or in heavy industry and brawn. I believe Obama’s energy policies intended to do both – boosting Silicon Valley and Pittsburgh too. But is this really an economic reality? Perhaps not. “Green tech” manufacturing seems likelier to catch headwinds, i.e., manufacturing roles that place a heavy emphasis on innovation and other specialties, like low-carbon technology. But putting American steelworkers back to work building solar panels? Even with training and workforce investment, as U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis promised in this manufacturing summit on CNBC, this is a tall order. I’ll continue to entertain the idea (dream). But in the meantime, let’s not be surprised when we continue to lose certain types of jobs overseas – even better, let’s plan for it.



Dear LA Businesses – What If Your Jobs Are Simply Inefficient?

There has been a lot of tension lately between Los Angeles-area businesses and LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a media spectacle that comes on the heels of Villaraigosa’s recent proposal to enact rate hikes at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Yesterday marked the latest chapter in the saga, as the LA City Council voted 13-1 to reject Villaraigosa’s plan. The council will, however, take up the issue again Tuesday, thus propeling the mayor’s plan forward at least another week.

In a fight to shift demand towards more sustainable energy sources, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is honorably heading off political convenience for a broader good.

Quick to make Villaraigosa out as an economy-slaying villain, these businesses have claimed the mayor’s plan will bury businesses and consumers alike with rate hikes that could peak at 28 percent, according to this article in the LA Times. ‘How can we possibly survive this’ – CEOs have cried out. In nearly the same breath, they easily found their own answer – by cutting costs and reducing staff.

Naturally, in these tough economic times, any job losses are somewhat undesirable. But what Villaraigosa, in my opinion, is trying to do here is greater than propping up area businesses. What he is trying to do is use economics to shift demand towards more sustainable, cost-effective sources of power – in particular, solar utilities. And on the jobs front, well, Villaraigosa claims he can in fact create new jobs with his plan – new jobs that will not just send people to work every day, but increase their utility for the community at large. According to the LA Times, the mayor’s office hopes to create 16,000 new jobs in solar installation, and 1,600 new jobs for “DWP doctors” that would work as advisers to LA-area households on how to increase their energy efficiency.

One of my favorite things about this story is the political risks that are being taken. Even circling the topic of layoffs in a struggling economy is risky at best. But Villaraigosa and his supporters are taking the high road – putting good ideas to work and taking on the hard work of persuading communities to acknowledge opportunity costs. And guess what? Just because you have a job doesn’t mean it is necessarily all that efficient or that the government is required to do all things necessary to maintain your livelihood (ahem, GM).

A great quote from LA City Councilman Richard Alarcon (via LA Times):

“That concept has won the support of Councilman Richard Alarcon, who said that, as Los Angeles shifts to a green economy, some businesses will need to make ‘bottom-line decisions’ about whether they can continue to operate. ‘There are going to be more businesses that will not succeed. But if they don’t succeed, we want it to be for the right reasons — because we are moving the economy in the right direction,’ he said.”

A less great quote from City Council President Eric Garcetti:

“‘I’ve never been opposed to a responsible step forward’ in increasing electric rates, Garcetti said. ‘But to take a giant leap in the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression seems to be rash.'”

Ah, the Great Depression – or the “Great Recession” as the AP now asks reporters to term the economic downturn of late. Yes, it is valid, but how long will it just be a convenient excuse?

–Mia Lamar



Paterson and the “Largest Solar Initiative in State History”
February 13, 2010, 11:45 pm
Filed under: solar | Tags: , , , ,

New York Governor David Paterson can barely keep himself in office, but today he announced “the largest solar initiative in State history.”

Um, ok. Let’s hope the New York Power Authority isn’t relying too much on Paterson for this, since it is questionable at this point if he will be able to withstand calls to step down.

If Governor Paterson can withstand calls to resign, he may be able to see through the start of "the largest solar initiative in State history."

In any case, according to Paterson’s statement, the NYPA is seeking developers who will build and operate up to 100 megawatts photovoltaic systems (PVs) across New York State. The NYPA will then enter into purchase agreements with developers, allowing itself to manage contracting and distribution to users like universities and public agencies. With the potential to power “the equivalent of 15,000 homes,” this will be the largest solar initiative New York State has ever undertaken.

Taking a cue from the Obama playbook, there is the requisite statement of stimulating “the economy with new clean energy jobs.” 50,000 new jobs, in fact – a “conservative” number, according to the press release. I think someone in the press office needs to ease up on the morning lattes – let’s see some hiring before we start calling 50,000 new jobs “conservative.”



January 29, 2010, 9:17 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , ,

Very informative piece in Forbes today on China’s continued dominance in renewables. Focus is heavy on solar power, as China recently announced it will build the world’s largest solar thermal project, and also the major challenges facing developers who dream of China-scale projects.