Editorial: Unfounded attacks diminish SLO County solar project

We thought we could look the other way when the entire solar industry was maligned after Solyndra went belly up, leaving taxpayers on the hook for $535 million.

Then we got wind of allegations against SunPower and the 250-megawatt solar farm under construction in the California Valley.

That project is in our backyard, and we take unfounded attacks personally.

The hit pieces are courtesy of Fox News commentators. They claim that SunPower —the recipient of a $1.2 billion federal loan guarantee for its San Luis Obispo County project — is in serious financial trouble. SunPower, they say, has the makings of a scandal bigger than Solyndra.

And it doesn’t stop there: Fox News commentators also have brazenly claimed the loan guarantee is subsidizing a manufacturing plant in Mexico, and that jobs are going to Mexicans, rather than Californians.

Well, gee, tell that to 80 workers who already have been hired in SLO County, and to the hundreds more who will be joining them during the construction phase.

The fact is, SunPower’s California Valley project has been a bright spot for San Luis Obispo County in this miserable economy.

Fox News is trashing the company to discredit the Obama administration. That’s politics, but it does a huge disservice not only to SunPower, but also to local citizens and officials who worked so long and so diligently to develop a project that would be both economically viable and respectful of the California Valley environment.

Here are more facts about the project:

As an editorial in the San Jose Mercury News recently pointed out, SunPower has sold the California Valley project to NRG Energy, and that company now has the federal loan guarantee.

PG&E has already agreed to buy the energy produced in California Valley. That hardly sounds like a project on the verge of bankruptcy.

SunPower is opening a solar panel production facility in Mexicali, Mexico, but that has nothing to do with the loan guarantee on the California Valley project. The Mexicali plant will supply some of the panels for the California Valley facility, though most panels will be coming from a plant in Milpitas, Calif.

The SLO County project will generate 350 jobs during the construction phase. Those jobs are not permanent, but that’s the nature of the construction industry. For Fox News to denigrate the project for producing “only” 15 permanent jobs makes about as much sense as ridiculing the home construction business — or any other industry that provides temporary or seasonal employment.

Solar energy is an economic boon not only for our county, but also for the entire state. According to a recent study by the nonprofit Solar Foundation, California is far out in front of all other states when it comes to solar-industry jobs. And there should be many more to come; according to the study, more than half of all solar employers expected to increase their work forces over the coming year.

By all means, the failure of Solyndra and the circumstances surrounding issuance of the loan guarantee should be thoroughly investigated. But using that one example to taint the solar industry in general and the California Valley project in particular is sensationalism at its worst.

Switching from fossil fuels to solar and other renewable forms of energy is imperative if we’re to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases that are choking the planet.

We should be proud of the progress made in San Luis Obispo County, and not allow a campaign of distortions to dim the future of solar power.

Number of solar jobs by state

1. California 25,575

2. Colorado 6,186

3. Arizona 4,786

4. Pennsylvania 4,703

5. New York 4,279

6. Florida 4,224

7. Texas 3,346

8. Oregon 3,346

9. New Jersey 2,871

10. Massachusetts 2,395

Source: The Solar Foundation