At a time when everyone agrees on the need to create jobs and stimulate the economy, an idea exists that would bring thousands of jobs to New York while also pumping billions of dollars into the local economy: a committed investment in solar power. Gov. Andrew Cuomo's commitment to solar power in his State of the State speech and budget proposal has moved the important conversation about this issue in New York forward.
Across the country, more than 100,000 people work in the solar industry today. Year-over-year American solar employment grew by 7 percent. That's 10 times better than the general economy. And yet New York is doing little to put this job creation engine to work in our own state.
The Empire State has a tremendous opportunity to quickly change all that and become a power player in the growing solar economy. Without any more sunshine than us and a lot less land, New Jersey has installed more than 400 megawatts of solar capacity, over 100 megawatts of which was added in the first half of 2011 alone.
By comparison, New York's solar market has limped along with less than 20 percent of New Jersey's total — a meager 64 megawatts installed as of the middle of last year.
For New York, setting a strong new solar target of 5,000 megawatts developed over the next 15 years — enough to power 500,000 average households — would yield thousands of jobs in the next decade. Because installing solar panels has to happen where the solar panels are located, these jobs are local. That means they would help jumpstart our economy all over the state. And by paying those solar installers a prevailing wage, we could ensure that these are good jobs.
Solar power would also be a win for New York's consumers. The state is burdened with some of the highest electricity prices in the country as demand for power frequently outstrips both supply and our aging grid's ability to deliver it.
There is no question that we need to invest in New York's energy infrastructure. We can choose to invest in business-as-usual practices or set the state on a better course forward. Making that investment in solar would tap a reliable, free, local fuel — the sun — to deliver predictably priced power when and where New Yorkers need it most.
A broad coalition that includes members of the business community, environmental advocates, labor and many others is coming together around just such an investment in solar energy. We all recognize that for New York to create jobs and stay competitive with our neighbors in a 21st century energy economy, we have to commit to solar power.
New York was once a leader in solar energy and it's time for New York to again lead the way. Solar energy makes sense for our economy, environment and energy consumers. That's something we can all get behind.
What do you think? Looking forward to read your comments.