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Solar industry booming, but problems loom

December 14, 2011 | 10:11 am

Ivanpah Site Compliance Manager Douglas Davis

Solar power is a booming business in the U.S., according to a report released today by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Assn. (SEIA). The study said there were more domestic solar installations completed in the third quarter of this year than during all of 2009.

"The U.S. solar industry is on a roll, with unprecedented growth in 2011," said Rhone Resch, president and chief executive of SEIA, at an event announcing the release of the report. "Solar is now an economic force in dozens of states, creating jobs across America."

SEIA is the national trade association of the U.S. solar energy industry, and it has 1,100 member companies.

Some 449 megawatts of power were installed in various parts of the U.S. in the third quarter in a variety of projects that ranged in size from large, utility-scale facilities to small residential systems, the report said. One MW or megawatt is the equivalent of 1 million watts of power.

The record third quarter, which was a 140% increase over the same period a year ago, also boosted the number of domestic solar installations in 2011 past the 1,000 MW mark, surpassing the 887 MW completed during all of 2010. The projects contributed to the 100,237 solar related jobs in the U.S., a figure that has doubled since 2009, SEIA said.

The bulk of those third-quarter installations were in California, which accounted for 44% of the total or nearly as much as the next six states combined. California has 25,575 solar-related jobs, or more than one-quarter of the national total.

But the report also warned that the U.S. solar industry faces considerable uncertainty in 2012 and beyond because of the coming expiration of the Section 1603 Treasury Program. SEIA said the program had awarded over 3,600 grants totaling $1.5 billion for more than 22,000 individual solar projects in 47 states, as of November of this year.

SEIA also said that 1603 Treasury program supported over $3.5 billion in private investment. But the program expires at the end of the year, which has many in the industry worried and clamoring for an extention.

"Our industry needs stable policy on which to make business decisions, said Resch, later adding, "To keep the industry growing and creating jobs in the U.S., we need Congress to extend the 1603 program. The 1603 program has done more to expand the use of renewable energy than any other policy in U.S. history."

ALSO:

 Buffett venture could boost solar industry

Schwarzenegger tells candidates to go green

Renewables trump fossil fuels for first time

— Ronald D. White

Photo: Ivanpah Site Compliance Manager Douglas Davis talks to reporters during Phase 1 of the 370-megawatt Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System construction project, currently underway in California's Mojave Desert. The domestic solar industry is booming, but advocates say problems loom. Credit: Josie Lepe / San Jose Mercury News / MCT

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