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Published: Sunday, 10/2/2011

COMMENTARY

Building a clean economy

BY SHERROD BROWN
AND FRED P. HOCHBERG

You can find a bright green spot in America's economic recovery on Cedar Park Boulevard in Perrysburg. Workers at First Solar, a world leader in solar technology, are delivering cutting-edge products that are in global demand.

These workers are on the front lines of our recovery, making high-quality, innovative products designed in the United States and built by Americans.

Working with the Export-Import Bank of the United States, which helps American companies sell their products overseas, First Solar is providing renewable-energy equipment for two large solar projects in Ontario, Canada. Ex-Im provided the financing.

Ex-Im also has financed the sale of First Solar products to India. The bank's First Solar portfolio is $575 million, and there is more to come.

These transactions will help boost Ohio's economy and, according to First Solar, support 550 local jobs. This partnership shows how America can be a global leader in this exciting and transformational field.

The race to lead the world in the development, manufacture, and deployment of clean-energy technology has started. It's one that America must win.

First Solar offers a road map for how American businesses can succeed in the clean-energy market. In 2006, the company employed about 250 Ohioans. Today, that number is around 1,200.

By providing overseas customers access to clean, renewable electricity at competitive prices, First Solar is a great example of how exporting helps U.S. companies keep and create jobs.

To remain competitive, American companies must invest in the global clean-energy market. Even in these tough times, this sector grew from a $33 billion industry in 2004 to a $211 billion industry in 2010.

As other countries expand their renewable-energy portfolios, companies such as First Solar must get the tools they need to maintain their competitive edge in the renewable-energy field.

By working with Ex-Im Bank, American businesses can expand their customer base from the United States to New Delhi to Taiwan. Because the bank gives companies access to financing and takes on the risk, business owners can focus on developing the latest innovations, making the best products at competitive prices, and winning more orders.

Another must is passage by Congress of the Security in Energy and Manufacturing Act. This bill would expand and improve the Advanced Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit, encouraging U.S. manufacturers to increase their capacity to supply clean-energy projects with American-made parts and equipment.

We also want to see congressional reauthorization of Ex-Im Bank, ensuring that the bank continues its work of creating a stronger and more robust economy through export sales.

Investing in clean energy is good policy and smart business. That's why Ex-Im has substantially increased its renewable-energy portfolio in recent years.

Just before President Obama took office, the bank financed $30 million in projects promoting clean-energy technology. By 2010, that investment reached $333 million.

Today, Ex-Im Bank has financed more than $670 million in renewable-energy projects at no cost to the American taxpayer. In fact, the bank is a self-sustaining agency that has generated $3.4 billion for taxpayers over the past five years.

Our nation has made great strides, but we still have a way to go if we are to compete globally with countries that are serious about investing in clean energy. Whether wind, solar, or geothermal, renewable-energy projects have the potential to create tens of thousands of high-paying jobs while protecting our environment.

The American worker is our nation's greatest competitive advantage. With the right approach, we can ensure that clean-energy technologies are completed by American workers, on American soil, and with made-in-America equipment and products.

The path is there. Let's work together to build a more durable and resilient clean-energy economy.

Democrat Sherrod Brown represents Ohio in the U.S. Senate. Fred P. Hochberg is chairman and president of the Export-Import Bank of the United States.



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