US: Governor Brewer highlights Arizona’s solar opportunities in China

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Governor Brewer was in Shanghai specifically to engage with Chinese solar manufacturers and high-tech companies, and inform them of the many benefits Arizona has to offer to investors: many of these opportunities exist in the renewable energy sector.

Arizona is China’s fastest-growing trade partner, and is a prime location for solar companies because of its plentiful sun, favorable renewable energy policies, low payroll taxes, combined with a large skilled workforce, and various company incentives.

On September 16, Governor Brewer met with Suntech CEO Zhengrong Shi in the Chinese capital. Suntech opened its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Goodyear, Arizona, in October last year, and added a third shift to its plant in May – bringing the total number of employees at its Arizona facility to 107.

The plant can now produce up to 15,000 solar panels per month, and production is focused on the company’s 280W solar panels for commercial and utility-scale electricity generation. All products are backed by a 25-year power output warranty and are compliant for procurement with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) and Buy American Provision. By the end of this year, the Suntech plant plans to have 150 employees.

Creating good jobs and increasing revenue for the state is foremost on the Governor’s mind when it comes to renewable energy in her home state. Arizona was hit particularly hard by the financial crisis and economic downturn, and Governor Brewer has singled-out renewable energy as a key sector to revive the Arizona economy and bring increased employment to the state.

Largely to stimulate investment and new jobs, Arizona enacted the Renewable Energy Tax Incentive Program, which went into effect on January 1, 2010. The new law provides up to a ten percent refundable income tax credit and up to a 75 percent reduction on real and personal property taxes.

During the Solar Opportunities luncheon on Shanghai, Governor Brewer praised Suntech for moving quickly to take advantage of this program. "When I signed Arizona’s Renewable Energy Tax Incentive Program into law, Suntech Power became one of the first companies to respond, expanding their global operations to the United States and specifically to Arizona," she stated.

Arizona also offers generous tax credits for homeowners wishing to install solar systems. As a result, the state has a balanced portfolio of solar power – with just over 50 percent of photovoltaic installations being residential, and the balance being non-residential and utility.

Overall, Arizona is one of the leaders in photovoltaic installations: it is one of five states to add 50 megawatts (MW) of photovoltaic capacity in 2010, the other states being California, Colorado, Nevada and New Jersey. Arizona went from 21 MW in 2009 to 54 in 2010, and if the plans of Arizona’s largest utility are any guide, much more expansion lies ahead.

On September 15, Arizona Public Service (APS) announced a Request for Proposal (RFP) from solar developers and installers to construct a 17 MW photovoltaic facility – financed by APS through the company’s AZ Sun Program. The AZ Sun Program calls for a total of at least six solar facilities online by 2014 with a combined capacity of 100 MW. And most importantly for Arizona, it will create more than 1,000 construction jobs.

Governor Brewer singled out the benefits of solar power when it comes to job creation. "It is estimated that the solar industry employs about 15 to 30 people for every megawatt of installed solar capacity," she said. "That is six to eight times more than the traditional energy industry does."

With unemployment remaining stubbornly above nine percent in the U.S., the link between solar power and job creation is significant. The solar industry serves as a ray of hope for the jobs forecast, particularly to states like Arizona with an abundance of land and sun.