Thursday, April 07, 2011

GE Plans to Build Largest Solar Panel Plant in U.S.

Is Michigan in the running for this? Hello? Lansing? ... * taps microphone * ...

General Electric is set to announce on Thursday that it will build America's largest photovoltaic panel factory, with the goal of becoming a major player in the market, the New York Times reported.

The plant, whose location has not been finalized, will employ 400 workers and create 600 jobs, the NY Times said, citing GE.

The factory would produce 400 MW of thin film cadmium telluride photovoltaic panels, starting in 2013. As you may or may not recall, back in 2009 GE picked Michigan for its new research and development facility; 1,100 new jobs that would develop manufacturing technologies for renewable energy, aircraft engine, gas turbine and other products. At the time, Jeff Immelt said this:

GE CEO Jeff Immelt, too, says he's confident GE can produce low-cost products at a Michigan site. For too long, companies have been outsourcing important skill sets to other countries, and some of that needs to start coming back to the U.S.

"It's hard to point to a successful country that has completely eroded its manufacturing base," Immelt says. "I do think it's important for the country to be more invested in manufacturing."

And Michigan makes sense because there are a lot of skilled precision workers with engineering and technical backgrounds looking for work, he says.

Still makes sense. Is the Snyder administration actively pursuing GE? Seems we would be an excellent candidate for the location of this new plant, given Immelt's past statements.

Much has been made lately about GE and the fact that they didn't pay federal taxes in 2010, leading some progressives to call for President Obama to dismiss Immelt from the Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Making Immelt the poster child for tax policy that many companies take advantage of is a mistake, IMO. It puts the blame on one man and one company, and they are but one symptom of the overall disease. Bernie Sanders had the right idea by bringing up ten big names as a solid example that illustrates the fault of the policy; for Feingold to call on Obama to do something he just isn't going to do deflects from the real issue here. Take out Immelt, and there are a hundred to take his place, all doing the exact same thing with business taxes. Focus on the overall problem, don't demand sacrificial lambs that you aren't going to get. It makes the progressive position look weak when you fail.

And, perhaps GE is making this announcement now to deflect some of these charges. So what. It's green jobs in America, granted not a lot, but they are here. With China running away with the race on solar panel production and our solar companies struggling - one famous example leaving Massachusetts and relocating overseas - any attempt to keep manufacturing in this country should be applauded. I don't like having to be in the position of defending GE, but it is possible to pat them on the head when they do good while arguing for a better tax policy that will apply to everyone.

Will we ever win that battle? Unknown at this point. I have my doubts. But I do know Michigan would be a great choice for this factory, and if we lose it, I would hope that someone takes the time to ask why. Cadmium panels are already being manufactured in Colorado and GE recently purchased a company out there, but when it comes to the new facility...

The United States government has offered a range of subsidies to help American solar panel makers, including loan guarantees for new factories. G.E. said it was not applying for a loan guarantee but was exploring applying for state and federal manufacturing tax credits.

Oh. Well, last I heard, we had unilaterally disarmed when it comes to state tax credits. That might have something to do with it. Better ask about that, too.