Big solar news from Illinois last week. The Wanxiang America Corporation held a ribbon cutting ceremony for a new $12.5 million, 40,000 sq ft solar module plant in the town of Rockford. It’s yet another example of how product follows policy. Of how manufacturing follows markets. Of how strong solar programs beget new jobs. And of how the race is very much underway to establish new centers of clean energy leadership around the country.
Illinois Governor Quinn attended the ceremony after having signed the state’s ‘solar ramp up’ bill, HB6202, into law that morning. The ramp-up sets Illinois on a clear path to building 750 MW of solar energy by 2016. That kind of commitment to solar is enough to turn the heads of major manufacturers who want assurance that their investment in new factories is going to be located advantageously close to market demand. And even though it’s a relative newcomer to our nation’s solar market, Illinois’ strong solar policies have sent a clear signal to global industry that the state is open for business.
To add frosting to the cake and send Rockford officials into political heaven, Wanxiang solar has also partnered with Chicago-based New Generation Power to start building projects. The two companies have announced plans to build a system of up to 62 MWs near the airport, a project that received $4 million in state ARRA funds. New Generation will construct the first 10 MW in 2011. While manufacturing jobs often get the headlines, about 75 percent of solar’s job creation opportunity actually lies in this kind of project development and installation. Given the state’s new solar requirement, Illinois can expect many more such local job creating projects to come.
Nearly every state we come across would welcome those new green jobs. Policymakers would be wise to take notes from the Illinois solar policy playbook.