Chicago Green Jobs

Big Trouble in Solar China
February 23, 2009, 1:12 am
Filed under: Green Technology

Chicago isn’t the only place in the US pinning its hopes and funding on a green boom to pull out of this recession: the state of Oregon now leads the nation in solar production. Yes, Oregon. The grayest state in the union.

According to this excellent piece in the Oregonian, Solaicx, Sanyo, and SolarWorld are the three biggest solar companies to recently put down Oregon roots, and more than 50 other companies have followed suit.  The combination of an educated workforce, the proximity of California (the largest solar customer in the union), and the financial commitment of the state government have created a strong green collar job market in the state. So far, so good.

Alas, there’s trouble brewing on the other side of the Pacific. China has swiftly taken the lead in solar production: 6 of the top 15 solar manufacturers are Chinese.  In Jiangsu province alone, 500 solar companies are up and running. Many of them are factories converted just in the last year or so, and there are more on the way. What does that mean for Oregon? More after the jump.

Their competitive advantage is generally described as “low manufacturing costs.”  I think Harold Hoskens, CEO of a Jiangsu-based company called Solarfun, has my favorite euphemism: “Asian factories are much more disciplined than Western factories.” Solarfun’s “discipline advantage” is no doubt boosted by the fact that his 2,000 workers earn an average of about $150 a month, according to the Oregonian. Compare that to Oregon’s SolarWorld, where the average pay for production workers is $3,200 a month.

That $3,050 gap is the biggest threat to the new green economy leaders from Van Jones to Newt Gingrich are working to create in the US.  We need jobs that wean us off oil AND pay well right here at home – not yet another industry that can get shipped overseas.

Given the catastrophic threat posed by global warming, I can’t quite bring myself to rail against the prospect of  China bringing the world $1 a watt solar energy. But as Chicago works to grow its own green industries, I hope we choose our subsidies wisely.  No one’s shipping green roof architects overseas…


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