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The Boston Herald

 

Let the Sun Set on Solar Fantasy

November 30, 2009

By Max Schulz

“Solar power is a key component of our clean energy future,” said Gov. Deval Patrick this summer, announcing a plan to install large-scale solar photovoltaic power installations throughout the commonwealth.

Just a few weeks later, the governor helped cut the ribbon at the opening of Evergreen Solar’s new plant in Devens, built with $58 million in state funds.

“We love the jobs, and we love that the jobs include manufacturing jobs,” Patrick said. “I look to this facility as a symbol of the kind of industry we want to build, as a symbol of the future.”

But half a year later the forecast for solar’s future - not to mention the governor’s other green initiatives - is looking cloudy with an increasing chance of failure.

Earlier this month, Evergreen Solar shocked everyone by announcing it is cutting up to half of the 800 jobs at the brand-new, taxpayer-bought Devens plant and shipping them to China. Solar panel materials will still be manufactured in Massachusetts (at least for now), but they will be assembled in a locale with much cheaper costs.

This shock came on the heels of Boston Power Inc. canceling plans to build a 600-job factory in Auburn. It had failed to win a $100 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop advanced battery technology. No government cash, no manufacturing plant and no jobs.

These body blows come amid Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 109,000 more Bay Staters are out of work than at the same point a year ago. The state’s unemployment rate is 8.9 percent.

Instead of touting a green energy future, Beacon Hill’s mandarins should recognize that their emphasis on renewable energy technology and production will only hurt the Massachusetts economy further.

Solar power is hardly economical in the sun-drenched Mojave desert. So what makes the governor think it makes sense in the Northeast?

The idea that Massachusetts might become a manufacturing center to serve the nation’s green appetite took a big hit with Evergreen’s Devens announcement. Yes, proximity to the brains at MIT and Harvard has its advantages, but Massachusetts’ high manufacturing costs are job killers. Evergreen’s sales tripled over last year but its losses tripled as well due in part to sky-high Massachusetts energy costs. There’s nothing sustainable about a green company in the red.

Evergreen makes trendy products and received huge state subsidies. But if favored manufacturers that receive gobs of government cash can’t survive in this high-cost environment, what are the chances for the run-of-the-mill company without the high-level contacts on Beacon Hill?

Massachusetts’ retail electricity rates are 57 percent higher than the national average and more than in every state except Hawaii, Connecticut and New York. Yet Patrick and his allies would have ratepayers pay even higher prices, since renewables are considerably more expensive than the conventional sources that now power the bulk of the state’s economy.

Rather than chasing the renewable energy rainbow as the answer to Massachusetts’ employment woes, policymakers should try to get a grip on those costs. If they did, they might stem the trend of employers deciding that the sun shines a little bit brighter and grass is greener elsewhere.

Original Source: http://news.bostonherald.com/news/opinion/op_ed/view.bg?articleid=1215378

 

 
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