Burns: Clean Energy Is Made in the USA

Posted March 26, 2009 at 2:50pm

America is at the dawn of a new energy era — a transformation that will provide us with more clean energy-producing options such as solar, wind and other renewable energy sources.

This transformation could bring with it whole new industries, hundreds of thousands of new jobs, a sustainable source of economic growth and a reduced carbon footprint that is good for our country and for our global environment. As the CEO of one of the world’s only producers of the silicon-based technology that powers the solar industry, I know firsthand that America’s

energy transformation is inexorably linked to our nation’s economic and manufacturing future.

In order to fully realize the promise of this economic, employment, energy and environmental opportunity, the creation of new green manufacturing jobs and the industries that support them must be a centerpiece of our national efforts to bolster our weakened economy.

It will require that we forge a new path forward through federal leadership, the investment and innovation of private industry, and integrated policy prescriptions that address each step in the renewable energy value chain from education and work force development, to raw material and end-product manufacturing, to deployment and market readiness.

Congress took a first step in the recent stimulus package by creating the Alternative Energy Investment Tax Credit, which supports the manufacture of renewable energy products and equipment. Studies have projected that this temporary incentive could create approximately 315,000 jobs. But there is more that we can — and should — do to move our nation to an era of renewable energy use, greater global competitiveness and expanded job opportunity.

Expanding federal tax incentives will speed the adoption of new renewable energy technologies. Creating federal net metering and interconnection standards will encourage the growth of consumer-based renewable energy generation. Modernizing our electric grid will facilitate the flow of electricity from renewable energy sources. Enacting a reasonable Renewable Energy Standard will result in significant gains in clean energy production for decades to come.

But it will take more than new policies and regulations to make renewable energy sources, like solar energy, more efficient and cost effective.

It will require a significant commitment to expand research and development. With government support, we can jump-start the transformation of existing manufacturing facilities into factories that can produce clean energy technologies, reducing startup costs for small and midsize businesses.

National job training programs can prepare workers for a green collar career path. And government can lead by example, by improving the efficiency of government buildings, changing procurement policies to favor energy efficient and clean energy technologies, and creating new requirements for the use of electricity from renewable power sources.

Last, but no less important, Congress must ensure that new policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as a carbon cap-and-trade system, do not inadvertently discourage growth in the manufacturing and production of renewable energy sources.

Producing materials and equipment for a growing renewable energy industry is itself energy intensive, even though over the long term, the end-products will result in significant emissions reductions.

Currently there is no renewable energy source sufficient to meet those needs, meaning manufacturers must rely on fossil-fuel-based electricity to power their facilities. At Dow Corning, we are increasing our use of green power by purchasing energy from a Michigan wind farm and installing on-site solar PV systems, but this will generate only a small part of the electricity we need to operate.

I encourage Congress to consider developing a system that takes into account the carbon savings generated by the products of renewable energy manufacturers. This system need not be a long-term policy remedy, but does ensure that the expansion of domestic renewable manufacturing capacity, while energy intensive, takes root while comprehensive policy solutions drive toward balance, affordability and security in our energy portfolio.

Other nations have enacted aggressive policies to support the growth of the renewable energy industry. For example, China, India and Germany offer large subsidies for solar manufacturing facilities. As a result, U.S. global market share of solar manufacturing has dropped from 45 percent to just 7 percent in only 12 years. It is time for America to enact policies that will keep the solar industry here at home.

America is a nation of innovators, and we have overcome every challenge and seized every opportunity that has come before us. Today is no different, and with the right mix of incentives, support, private investment and entrepreneurial spirit, we will not only revitalize the heart of our nation’s economy — our manufacturing sector — and put Americans back to work, but we will also move America toward a clean, independent and secure energy future.

Dr. Stephanie Burns is chairman, CEO and president of Dow Corning Corp.