U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) toured the headquarters of the flexible solar panel manufacturer Xunlight Corp. in Toledo yesterday, saying solar should be part of a "Manhattan Project" to make America independent of imported oil.
But he resisted suggestions that Congress should mandate the use of alternative energy or provide tax incentives to consumers, saying those would simply add to the nation's debt.
Mr. Voinovich examined flexible sheets of photovoltaic cells before giving a statement calling for new oil exploration offshore and in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, along with expanded use of coal and construction of new nuclear plants.
He said solar power represents about 1 percent of the energy used in the nation and is likely to grow "astronomically," while natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy will long remain the basic sources of electrical energy.
His trip was billed as one stop on his "High Gas Prices Tour."
Xunlight, 3145 Nebraska Ave., is a spinoff from processes developed at the University of Toledo for making solar panels that can be used for commercial and residential rooftops.
Xunming Deng, company president and chief executive officer, said solar could account for 15 percent or 20 percent of the nation's energy demands.
He said the company has received state and federal government support and recently received a $30 million investment commitment from venture capital and private equity firms.
Mr. Voinovich responded to a question about whether the government should offer tax incentives to people who buy solar panels by pointing out that it would add to the national debt.
"One of the things we're failing to realize in this country is that we are borrowing money to run our country. People come to me every day saying, 'Senator, I want you to do this.' I look them in the eye and say, 'Is what you want me to do worthy of borrowing the money and paying interest on it?'•" Mr. Voinovich said.
He also brushed aside a proposal backed by Democrats in Congress to establish a "portfolio standard" that would require a certain percentage of electricity be produced from alternative and renewable energy resources.
He said he opposed artificial goals.
After the meeting, Mr. Deng said a standard would help promote the sale of solar panels in the United States, rather than primarily in Europe where some countries subsidize the use of solar panels.
Asked about Republican presidential candidate John McCain's likely choice for a vice presidential running mate, Mr. Voinovich said his "ideal candidate" is Mitt Romney, the Michigan native and former Massachusetts governor.
He also pushed Rob Portman, a former Ohio congressman who was a budget director under President Bush.
He said whoever is chosen should share Mr. McCain's opposition to abortion rights, or the GOP ticket would lose support among the Republican base of voters.
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