It’s amazing how many questions and comments I’ve received about Solyndra in the past few days. My Dad, friends, acquaintances, and the press have all sheepishly nudged me. "Did you hear about Solyndra?" It's not like they're gloating. It feels more like someone young has just died a tragic death, and they are seeking meaning behind this sudden solar biz train wreck.
While I know it’s painful and embarrassing to see high profile solar companies like Solyndra and Evergreen fold, I remind these people that the rest of the solar industry is still here. In fact, we’re growing jobs, and even net solar exports.
Of course, symbols are powerful, especially with our increasingly short attention spans and get-the-gist-headline-24/7 news cycle. Reporters and lawmakers look to large symbols as a short handed way to judge and define trends, success, and failure.
And yet, these symbols often skew the reality: that Solyndra and Evergreen are but two solar companies out of thousands of solar companies creating jobs in the U.S.
Let’s first acknowledge that Solyndra and Evergreen failed. It’s a fact. And yes, tax dollars were spent trying to jump start these two new businesses, but this is something that local and federal governments do regularly for various industries in every state.
At the same time, not all U.S. subsidized companies are expected to succeed. Solyndra and Evergreen have simply joined the club of pharmaceuticals, oil and gas companies, coal plants, and ethanol plants that have received some type of government support and failed. And let’s not forget nuclear power plants that perpetually go over budget, requiring never-ending government support. Our government picks winners all the time, but sometimes the horse doesn't even show.
Consequently, the bankruptcies of Solyndra and Evergreen are not unique for any business sector.
More importantly, while we've lost Evergreen and Solyndra jobs, the overall U.S. solar industry is increasingly creating jobs in an otherwise stagnant job market.
According to The Solar Foundation’s 2010 solar jobs census, there were 16,700 solar employment sites and 93,000 solar jobs in the U.S. The latest 2011 census doesn’t come out until October 2011, but it’s expected that the US solar industry has grown to include over 100,000 solar workers by now.
One great visual way to see solar’s vibrancy is to head over to SEIA’s Solar Works for America web site. Click on a state and see all of the solar companies listed from the 2010 census. We’re a lot more than solar panel manufacturers, although there are plenty of those too.
In addition, as mentioned above, SEIA just published a report that our little U.S. solar industry was actually a net exporter of solar products in 2010.
So, I know that Solyndra’s demise has captured a lot of media and Congressional attention in the news, but if you’re in this industry, please do me one favor: Put your solar company name in the comments section below and remind people that there’s more to the solar industry than just Solyndra and Evergreen.
Finally, I would like to personally thank all of the workers, investors, and legislators who directly or indirectly supported Solyndra and Evergreen. You all tried to create and sustain American jobs and to help bring the U.S. towards energy independence with clean, non-polluting energy.
Solyndra and Evergreen may no longer exist, but their workers and our industry are still here. Despite this loss, I know we'll continue our collective solar efforts in over 100,000 ways--and growing. Thank you, Solyndra and Evergreen employees. Don’t give up, and may you always continue to be bold for solar.
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