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Detroit News: Looking to Germany–Michigan Governor wants solar power incentives

Article by: dev


Solar panels provided by Hemlock Semiconductor Corp., whose expansion could bring 500 jobs, line Dow Diamond in Midland. See full image

Is Michigan next the next North American jurisdiction to implement a feed laws? The Governor of Michigan looks at Germany and suggests “We ought to be doing the same thing in Michigan.”–Paul Gipe

Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Wednesday called for incentives that would encourage Michigan residents to harness the power of the sun, shortly after praising a $1 billion expansion by Hemlock Semiconductor Corp., a major supplier of solar materials.

Hemlock officials joined Granholm in announcing an expansion of Hemlock’s manufacturing plant on a 60-acre site — a project that that could bring up to 500 jobs to Saginaw County.

The expansion will allow the company, which Dow-Corning holds a majority stake in, to nearly double its production of polycrystalline silicon by 2010.

There have been worldwide shortages of that material, which is a key component of photovoltaic cells — used to produce solar power. Polycrystalline silicon is also used in computer chips and other electronics.

“We want to re-brand Michigan as the alternative energy capital of the world,” Granholm said.

To accomplish that, she said, Michigan not only must be home to companies such as Hemlock and Auburn Hills-based United Solar Ovonic, the state’s citizens must become larger consumers of alternative energies.

“What we need to do is take a hard policy look at providing incentives for the use of these solar panels in Michigan,” Granholm told The Detroit News. “In Germany they created 170,000 jobs by changing the incentives for the use of wind and solar. We ought to be doing the same thing in Michigan.”

Sales of solar equipment are much stronger in places such as California and Europe where government incentives encourage citizens to use greener sources of power. Incentives could create jobs for installation of solar panels and create local customers for companies already based here.

Among the incentives Granholm would consider is stronger net metering incentives. Net metering would allow a homeowner or business that generates excess power from solar, or other renewable energy, to sell that power back to utilities.

Critics, however, say incentives and net metering programs ultimately drive up the price of power.

“The reason we don’t have those incentives is so-called alternative energy is very expensive,” said Diane Katz, director of science, environment and technology policy for the Mackinac Center. She said utilities can produce and buy electricity at lower rates than they’d likely have to pay for excess power from individuals.

Others contend if Michigan uses more renewable energy, prices will fall closer to that of conventional sources.

Michigan has several growing alterative energy-related companies. Hemlock’s expansion will add as many as 250 jobs to their payroll and hire up to 250 more contract workers.

United Solar employs 500 workers in Auburn Hills and plans to add 300 more at plants in Greenville. There are also a handful of wind energy projects under way and several auto suppliers focused on alterative fuels.

“Germany was once the automotive capital of Europe, now they’re a leader in renewable energy. I think Michigan can learn a lesson from that,” said Subhendu Guha, president of United Solar.