Invest in solar energy to jumpstart Iowa’s economy

This letter, written by Sen. Joe Bolkcom – D, Iowa City, was also published in the February 24 edition of The Daily Iowan. Bolkcom, who is also the outreach and community education director for CGRER, is the sponsor of SF 99 – a bill that would incentivize solar energy use.

Imagine a readily available source of energy that could produce electricity for our homes and businesses, right where we live and work.

Solar energy could be the next new engine of job creation for Iowans, provided we seize the opportunities in front of us.

Iowa has become a world leader in biofuels and the big wind industry. This

Joe Bolkcom

is thanks to great natural resources (Sun, soils and wind) and smart state policies — and let’s not forget taxpayers, who have provided plenty of help in the form of public subsidies. Over the last decade, taxpayers have invested billions in these industries.

This investment has paid off by creating new jobs and new markets for Iowa products.

Iowa’s next opportunity is to harvest the sun directly to power and heat our homes, farms, businesses, public buildings, and automobiles.

Iowa has abundant sunshine. Solar energy grows billions of dollars of crops each year in our state — and that energy is there for the taking.

The solar industry is taking off in the states that surround us. It can create jobs in every county in our state too.

Solar’s time has arrived. The amount of electricity generated by solar photovoltaic installations will double next year, according to a new report by the iSuppli Corporation. The report predicts that two gigawatts of solar photovoltaic will be added in the United States in 2011. That’s enough to power 1.5 million to 2 million homes.

Venture-capital investors have noticed this opportunity. Investment in solar increased by 77 percent in 2010 to $1.58 billion, according to a new report by Ernst and Young.

Growth in the solar industry means well-paying jobs for many people in our local communities: electricians, builders, plumbers, contractors, engineers, technicians, and salespeople. Hawkeye, Kirkwood, Western Iowa Tech, Iowa Central, Indian Hills, and Eastern Iowa Community Colleges are all helping Iowans learn to sell, install, and maintain solar energy systems.

In addition, Iowa small businesses have united to create the Iowa Solar/Small Wind Energy Trade Association. They are working to support all aspects of this emerging industry in Iowa.

What our fledgling Iowa solar businesses need now are customers. Our neighbors in Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota and our relatives in Colorado, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio are all way ahead of us.

They all have great state policies and financial incentives to help make solar technology more affordable for businesses, homeowners, and public buildings.

That’s why the Iowa Senate is working on legislation (Senate File 99) to jump-start this industry with a set of clean-energy incentives. They include consumer rebates for home and business solar installations.

Iowa is clearly a leader in wind and biofuels, but we are on the sidelines when it comes to solar. Now is the time to create the new clean energy jobs of the future.

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