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Solar Tech--Too Much Too Fast?

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Solar Tech--Too Much Too Fast?

Garvin Thomas

Solyndra employees at a presidential rally.

The sudden collapse of solar panel manufacturer Solyndra corporation has captured the attention of federal officials and sent ripples through California's already shaky economy.

It's hard to know exactly what FBI agents were looking for when they showed up at the bankrupt company earlier today.

When asked why they folded, company officials said that the doors closed because they couldn't compete with low-cost Chinese-made products.

Others have commented that Solyndra spent more time on image than product.

One fact to remember is that within the past few weeks two other U.S. solar energy companies have also gone under.

All of which augers the question, what do we make of this corporate collapse after $535 million in federal grants?

Is it simply the result of bad management or are the nation and state supporting an energy sector that will be unable to compete with countries such as China, which has surged as the world's largest manufacturer of solar panels?

You have to believe that the feds are curious for good reason.

Much is on the line for California Gov. Jerry Brown as well as the Obama administration.

Brown clearly believes that California's best solar energy days are ahead, particularly in light of the state's new mandate to produce 33 percent of the state's energy from renewable sources by 2020.

His current signature example lies with a 550 megawatt solar plant in Riverside County which will create 600 jobs and provide energy for 165,000 homes.

But against such energy improvements are other data that suggest the solar energy industry may not be thriving after all, especially with respect to creating new jobs.

A study released by the Brookings Institution in July, for example, found that a decline of nearly 500 solar technology jobs in Silicon Valley between 2003 and 2010, hardly an example of robust solar energy industry growth--and that was before the release of 1,000 Solyndra employees.

In addition, it appears that while California-based solar energy companies may be doing business, much of their work is taking place out of the state.

In recent months, California companies have signed on to build solar energy plants in Oregon, Mississippi, and Texas.

That may be good for the companies, but it doesn't add to the state's employment.

Is the industry moving too fast? Too cavalierly? Can California's solar technology compete with other countries?

We may not know the answers to these questions for a while, but at a minimum Alice had a point after entering Wonderland when she said things are getting "curiouser and curiouser."
 

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Related Topics Solyndra, Solar Tech, California, FBI
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