First Solar’s Sohn to chair Manufacturing CouncilWritten by Duane Ramsey | | email@example.com
Bruce Sohn, president of First Solar, was recently appointed to chair Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke’s Manufacturing Council, representing the solar industry on a national level.
“By appointing a leader in solar manufacturing to chair Commerce Secretary’s Manufacturing Council, the Obama administration has told the world that the solar industry is becoming a backbone for our economy and offers a bright future for U.S. manufacturing,” said Rhone Resch, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association [SEIA] based in Washington, D.C., in a statement released Aug. 10.
“This council is an effective step to help America create good-paying jobs and regain its global leadership in solar manufacturing. Step No. 1 for the council should be to work with the administration and Congress to enact long-term manufacturing policy measures that support clean energy,” Resch said.
“As a council, we need to make recommendations to strengthen manufacturing in the U.S.,” Sohn said in a telephone interview Aug. 11.
“It is important that there is strong interest in Washington to advance manufacturing in the future and help stabilize the economy. Soliciting advice from manufacturing companies through this council is important,” Sohn said.
“The council should focus on the advancement of new technologies for renewable energy and to facilitate financing for manufacturing expansion. The council needs to facilitate creative and effective thinking to make policy recommendations to the administration,” Sohn said.
Ten years ago, the U.S. produced 40 percent of all solar photovoltaic panels in the world. Today, the U.S. manufactures less than 10 percent of the global supply of photovoltaic panels, according to the SEIA.
This trend is reversible as the U.S. leads the world in technology innovation and skilled manufacturing workforce, Resch said.
With recently announced additional funding for the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit, the SEIA reports that 58 solar energy plants are being built or expanded in the United States.
Sohn cited that investment in manufacturing research and development is occurring in Northwest Ohio.
The recent expansion of First Solar’s R&D and manufacturing facilities in Perrysburg began before the manufacturing tax credit program. However, First Solar received a tax credit for expansion of its local facilities.
“I am proud of the people in Perrysburg in R&D and manufacturing for us, as it all originates there,” Sohn said. “We expanded manufacturing by modernizing three lines, adding another line and expanding R&D to support our growth and capabilities.”
First Solar’s employment in Perrysburg has grown from 300 in 2006 to more than 1,000 employees working there today, Sohn said.
The company, now based in Arizona, is the largest manufacturer of thin-cell photovoltaic panels in the world, according to the SEIA. First Solar is a member of SEIA and maintains a seat on its board of directors.
In another development, the U.S. House passed a Senate Bill that President Obama signed into law Aug. 10, which cut the renewable energy loan guarantee program by $1.5 billion. The original $6 billion program was reduced by $2 billion to fund the Cash for Clunkers program in 2009.
There is now less money and financing for large utility-scale solar generating plants and investment in the manufacturing of solar energy components, SEIA officials said.
Sohn said the council hopes that restoration of those funds will be addressed by Congress. The council would be supportive of the treasury grant program to create growth in renewable energy manufacturing, he said.
“The Section 1603 Treasury Grant Program in combination with the Department of Energy loan guarantee program are powerful policies driving private sector investment in solar energy projects. Congressional leaders have expressed a commitment to restore the loan guarantee funding, and we strongly support such an action,” Kathy Weiss, vice president of federal government affairs at First Solar, said in a statement released by the company.
“The permanent loss of these loan guarantee funds, combined with the impending expiration of the Treasury Grant Program at the end of this year if no congressional action is taken to extend it, could undermine the strong growth demonstrated by the solar industry even in the headwinds of a weak economy,” Weiss said.