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Why California’s Solar Industry Is Cheering The Defeat Of Prop. 23

Tom Rooney is one happy guy today. The chief executive of SPG Solar, California’s second largest solar installer, says that California voters’ rejection of energy-related Proposition 23 is a boost for the solar industry in California. “The double positive for the solar industry was [Jerry] Brown getting elected governor and no on 23,” says Rooney. Prop. 23 lost, with 61% of voters against it and 39% in favor.

Proposition 23, if it had passed, would have essentially rolled back the timeline for California’s landmark A.B. 32 –the Global Warming Solutions Act that aims to cut California’s greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. Oil refiners Valero Energy and Tesoro Energy as well as Occidental Petroleum and others put millions of dollars behind the passage of Prop. 23, as my colleague Chris Helman points out here.  Liberal billionaires John Doerr (who backs a bundle of green tech companies at venture firm Kleiner Perkins) and Julian Robertson and Gap scion Robert Fisher gave millions of dollars to oppose Prop. 23, as Clare O’Connor reported.

Rooney explains that four or five months ago, a “no” vote on Prop. 23 had been mischaracterized as a job killer by the oil companies backing its passage. But that perception changed as the election drew near. The solar industry has been creating jobs, not only in California but in other states as well, says Rooney. Between his company’s employees and the workers they hire to implement commercial solar installations in 10 states, Rooney says the workforce has grown 400% in the past two years to 1,000 people. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the solar energy sector has created 17,000 jobs since 2009 and supports roughly 46,000 related jobs in the U.S. Employment in solar is expected to surpass 60,000 jobs by the end of 2010.

Granted, that’s a drop in the bucket in terms of the number of jobs that need to be created to lower the 12.4% unemployment rate in California, and the national unemployment rate of 9.6%.

Rooney shared a telling anecdote, though. While in China two months ago, he met a solar panel manufacturer who boasted to him about having his picture taken with Calif. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger during the Governator’s China visit. How did this person get so lucky? “He told me, ‘We’re seriously considering opening a major solar manufacturing plant in California,’” says Rooney. All such decisions were put on hold until the election as solar companies awaited news of the Prop. 23 vote.  Stay tuned for news of the mystery Chinese panel maker and its California debut.

Tagged in: Big Oil



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